Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Truck with radioactive capsule stolen in Venezuela

New Zealand's source for World News on Stuff.co.nz: Truck with radioactive capsule stolen in Venezuela: "VENEZUELA: Venezuela yesterday warned of a radiation hazard and launched a nationwide search for a capsule with highly radioactive material that was stolen along with the truck carrying it.

'We have a state of emergency at a national and regional level and are looking for the capsule everywhere,' civil defence director Col. Antonio Rivero said. The truck was stolen in the central-western Yaracuy state.

Speaking on state television, Angel Diaz, director of nuclear affairs at Venezuela's Energy Ministry, asked the thieves to return the potentially deadly device, whose protective container is about the size of a lunchbox, and also urged the population to inform the authorities if they find it.

Diaz said he could not rule out the use of the capsule for 'malicious purposes,' but Rivero said the authorities were focusing on simple truck theft as the motive.

'We call on those who stole it, probably because of the truck, to say that they can suffer very serious consequences that can lead to death,' Diaz said.

Authorities said they learned about the theft yesterday but aren't sure when it occurred.

The device contains Iridium-192, which emits powerful gamma radiation and is used for industrial radiography, such as for detecting faults in underground industrial pipes.

In March, two capsules with Iridium-192 went missing through negligence in two separate states in Venezuela. Rivero said one had since been found and authorities suspected the other had been disposed of at the bottom of Lake Maracaibo.

One of the worst incidents with radiography-grade nuclear materials occurred in Brazil in 1987.

Scrap-metal scavengers took a container with Cesium-137 from an abandoned radiation therapy clinic without knowing the material was radioactive and opened it. Children smeared the material on their faces and bodies because it glowed. Five people died and 249 suffered from radiation contamination."

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