Mexican officials on Friday located and secured a quantity of sensitive radioactive material that had been stolen a day earlier, Reuters reports.
A truck transporting a container of iridium-192 was seized by thieves in the Mexico City suburb of Tlalnepantla, according to a Twitter post by the chief of Mexico's civil protection agency. The highly radioactive material was later discovered discarded but still in its specialized container on a road several miles from where the vehicle was stolen.
The material, which was taken away by the Mexico atomic safety commission, would only represent a public health hazard if its container had been compromised, according to the interior ministry.
Iridium-192 is frequently used for industrial imaging purposes. The isotope is radioactive enough to cause sickness or even death from a distance of 30 meters. However, the material's relatively fast rate of decay makes it less suited than other radiological materials for use in a "dirty bomb" attack, according to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace atomic specialist Mark Hibbs.
"The perpetrators would have to accumulate enough material to disperse it effectively which may be difficult since in many cases small amounts of Ir-192 are used in sources," Hibbs wrote in an e-mail. "Unlike cobalt-60, which remains a dangerous source of radiation for many years, Ir-192's shorter half-life implies that perpetrators would have far less time to fashion it into a dispersion device."
Mexico has experienced a number of recent incidents of radioactive material being stolen. Armed thieves stole a device containing cesium-37 and americium beryllium from a government laboratory last month. And in December, hijackers seized a truck transporting a load of cobalt-60. In both instances, the stolen radioactive material was later recovered.