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Thieves Who Stole Cobalt-60 Will Soon Be Dead 923

Posted by timothy
from the felony-suicide-rule dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "The Washington Post reports that the carjackers who set off international alarm bells by absconding with a truckload of highly radioactive cobalt-60, used in hospital radiotherapy machines, most likely had no idea what they were stealing and will die soon from exposure. The robbery occurred as the cobalt-60 was being driven from a public hospital in the border town of Tijuana to a storage facility in central Mexico. While waiting for daybreak at a gas station in the state of Hidalgo the drivers were jumped by two gunmen who beat them and stole the truck. "I believe, definitely, that the thieves did not know what they had; they were interested in the crane, in the vehicle," says Mardonio Jimenez, a physicist with Mexico's nuclear safety commission. The prospect that material that could be used in a radioactive dirty bomb had gone missing sparked an urgent two-day hunt that concluded when the material, cobalt-60, used in hospital radiotherapy machines, was found along with the stolen Volkswagen truck. The cobalt-60 was found, removed from its casing, in a rural area near the town of Hueypoxtla about 25 miles from where the truck was stolen. Jimenez suspects that curiosity got the better of the thieves and they opened the box. So far the carjackers have not been arrested, but authorities expect they will not live long. "The people who handled it will have severe problems with radiation. They will, without a doubt, die.""
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Thieves Who Stole Cobalt-60 Will Soon Be Dead

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  • by bob_super (3391281) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @01:38PM (#45609541)

    The difference with about 100 Americans on the road today, is that at least they know it in advance.

  • Re:Too much TV? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @01:43PM (#45609629)
    We can identify radiation sources in the sky with pinpoint accuracy.

    Yeah, multiple times what the sun will put out in its lifetime against the vast vacuum of cold space. Aside from that you mostly get infrared, radio and visible light. All three useless in this case given the background of where you're looking for it. So, this is a little different. And even at that there are forms of radiation we have a very hard time detecting the origins of with any real accuracy. If you want to dispute this I'll leave it to you to provide the proof.
  • Re:Tough luck.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jythie (914043) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @01:44PM (#45609645)
    The best guess right now is that they stole the truck for the crane it was carrying.
  • Re:hmmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Xylaan (795464) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @01:47PM (#45609695)
    Unfortunately, it's happened enough that it's sadly hard to narrow down []. Though if I had to guess, you were originally referring to this one [].
  • Re:Tough luck.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Patch86 (1465427) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:03PM (#45609929)

    If you think stealing a van and hitting someone warrants death, you are an unhinged individual (or more likely, an internet tough guy). Even the Old Testament said "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth"- that is, the punishment should match the crime. If someone takes your eye out, you're entitled to take up to one eye- not the whole head.

    And I don't think there are many people who would argue that the Old Testament was too lenient...

  • Re: Tough luck.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cryptic Loki Omega (3454915) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:15PM (#45610129)
    Whoa! Hold on a second, dude. First, you must realize the majority of Christians in the US are only Christians on Sundays or when the dogma serves to back their beliefs. Second, a belief in a religion doesn't equal the existence of morality or empathy. Clearly. Thirdly, and I mean this most sincerely above all other points, though Christianity is the most popular religion in the US, please don't lump all of us under the same religious umbrella. It makes you look like a right wing Christian from the US, and you don't want that, do you? Guns and Love, An atheist stuck in the southern US.
  • Re:Tough luck.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mythosaz (572040) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:20PM (#45610207)

    There's a difference between wanting them killed and finding them dead as a result of their crime a convenient outcome.

    Every time a would-be-criminal ends up killing themselves because of their own stupidity, I smile.

  • Re:Tough luck.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sardaukar86 (850333) <> on Thursday December 05, 2013 @02:46PM (#45610609) Homepage

    If you think stealing a van and hitting someone warrants death, you are an unhinged individual (or more likely, an internet tough guy).

    Then I stand before you an unhinged individual. There is no rehabilitation for most people like this and it costs a lot of time and money to try.

    This planet's habitable surface is overflowing with humans and yet most of us manage to avoid committing violent crime. Why should we roll over and take it from those people who repeatedly demonstrate their desire to hurt others?

  • by cayenne8 (626475) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:14PM (#45610997) Homepage Journal

    Good, we need more hispanic superheroes.

    What about Speedy Gonzales []?

  • by canajin56 (660655) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:34PM (#45611347)

    Short answer: No. Long answer: What do you mean "big doses"? There are many sources of gamma rays in the atmosphere (when stuff like cosmic rays hit it, you get a nice shower of gamma rays and other neat thingies). Maybe if you have a gamma spectrograph you can filter out just the cobalt-60 gamma rays, assuming they're unique? In that case you just need to worry about the fact that the surface is huge and gamma detectors are non-directional. That means that to scan a point on the surface you need to point straight at it. Unless you have a massive constillation of sats that means each "square" you scan will need to have a pretty high CPM for there to be a statistically significant number of counts during the scan. Due to the inverse square law, your satellite in LEO will only see a few CPS if somebody within 1KM of the source is getting several MILLION CPM. That translates into radiation sickness within a few days. For being 1KM away. Don't even ask about being in the same room as it! And of course the area you're scanning in 1 second is pretty huge so this detector wouldn't be much help locating things. And that's assuming no background radiation on the same order (or higher) CPS.

    This would change if you have a gamma ray vector spectrograph that lets you measure the exact frequency and vector of each gamma ray it detects. But right now I think the filters are pretty fuzzy AND the techniques used are all non-directional. Even assuming perfect filters and vector detectors, the counts have to be huge before they show up in space right when you're looking. And I think the assumption you even can filter so you won't see any background ticks is incorrect, but I have no idea what kind of spectral distribution the Earth's gamma background has.

    The reason you can have satellites that detect and locate the gamma bursts of underground nuclear tests is because of the B word. If it's a burst then you can triangulate between satellites even though their detectors are scalar not vector. That's because the sudden uptick that each satellite sees is tied to the same physical event. If you're looking at decay emissions then the counts are not synchronized so you can't triangulate. Oh, and also the gamma ray burst from an explosion is pretty big compared to the decay from a few kg of cobalt-60.

  • Re:Tough luck.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geekoid (135745) <> on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:38PM (#45611469) Homepage Journal

    My mother was a drunkard and crazy. I was 12 and had to feed her and my two brothers.
    Yeah, I stole. Robbed bread trucks, soda trucks, I would go into busy pizza places and just grab a pie off the counter and walk out.
    It was always a last resort, it was always about basic survival.
    And if I had to do it again, I would.

    You clearly had other avenues to get food and shelter.

  • Re:Tough luck.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by geekoid (135745) <> on Thursday December 05, 2013 @03:44PM (#45611587) Homepage Journal

    I saw a couple of pictures of the container, I was surprised they didn't have the yellow and black radiation warning.

  • Re:Tough luck.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @05:21PM (#45612725)

    The usual response to this is that your situation, as described, is mostly caused by the breakdown of "community" that occurs in large cities. In smaller towns, there's enough sense of community that people will actually provide other avenues and help each other. These people are acquaintances, if not friends, with their neighbors. They keep an eye on each other. They have family, usually, and those families live relatively close and help each other. You end up being a part of a large social network that's generally populated with helpful people that care about you. You also have a social drive to be a provider rather than a leech on this system, so you only tend to use it in dire need and then you get back on your feet and figure things out. It all works out pretty well. The big city phenomenon is the opposite: neighbors are strangers, family members visit on Christmas Day at best, nobody really cares about anyone. It's easy to see how people "fall through the cracks" in such a sub-society, which is how we end up with large homeless populations, and yes, children having to steal food to care for themselves while the rest of society ignores them and their broken parents. In the other situation, a family member, neighbor, or other community member would've seen the problem with your mother and taken over for her and raised and fed you.

  • Re:hmmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2013 @07:27PM (#45614045)

    > better still, an inch or so of lead.

    depends. An old friend worked with medical radio-iodine, which emits high energy gammas. Part of her job was introducing new medical staff to the procedures. She would bring in the standard lead drapes and a Geiger counter and ask them all if they understood radiation precautions. They would of course say yes; she was just a little old lady (her own description), after all, and they were Doctors and Nurses.

    She'd hold up the Geiger counter near the patient who had taken the radio-iodine dose, and the Geiger counter would click away steadily.

    Then she'd put the lead drape in between patient and Geiger counter -- and the counter would roar.

    Then she'd smile and say:

    "... I know you all understand secondary radiation, and how gamma rays mostly go straight through tissue like you and me without interacting, but if they hit a really dense material like these lead drapes, they knock off a huge number of electrons that become charged particles that will interact far more readily with tissue, that's one of the reasons we call it ionizing radiation.

    "So who wants a drape?"

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