December 19, 2005

Truck with radioactive capsule stolen in Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela on Monday 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
defense director Col. Antonio Rivero told Reuters.

The truck was stolen in the central-western Yaracuy state
on Sunday night, officials said.

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.

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.