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Cobalt-60, and Lessons From a Mexican Theft 174

Posted by Soulskill
from the now-everybody-knows-where-to-get-some-cheap-cobalt-60 dept.
Lasrick writes "George Moore and Miles Pomper examine the theft of a truck containing Cobalt-60 and find that, while Mexico did the right thing and reported the theft promptly, they were under no obligation to do so according to international rules and the IAEA. This was true even though the stolen material was 3,000 curies, making it a Category 1 source (the most dangerous). Quoting: 'At a distance of 30.5 centimeters (1 foot) from an unshielded source with an activity level of 3,000 curies, the dose to a bystander would be about 37,000 Rem per hour (a measure of radiation exposure). This means that anyone within a foot of the source when it was out of its shield was being exposed to about 10 Rem per second, a level that would typically kill half of a population exposed to it for 30 seconds. ... The number of fatalities will not be nearly as high as it would have been if the source capsule had been left in a public place. Cobalt 60, like other high-risk radiological sources, is more lethal when it is kept intact as a high-strength source than it would be if spread using a radiological dispersal device such as a so-called “dirty bomb.” Nonetheless, had the Mexican source been used in a dispersal device, the economic consequences could have been extremely significant.'"
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Cobalt-60, and Lessons From a Mexican Theft

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  • by auric_dude (610172) on Friday December 13, 2013 @06:35PM (#45685017)
    An account of what happened and what could have happened via Steve Weintz https://medium.com/war-is-boring/26b40dd869fb [medium.com]
  • So In Effect... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Friday December 13, 2013 @06:36PM (#45685029) Homepage Journal

    Had a terrorist put this under a seat cushion in a bus terminal, they could kill hundreds, perhaps thousands before it would eventually be tracked down.

    Damn dirty bombs, sneak attacks are more deadly.

  • Re:So In Effect... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AK Marc (707885) on Friday December 13, 2013 @06:58PM (#45685179)
    Cut open the hand holds on a NYC subway and put it in there, then seal it back up. 1 a day would be hundreds. They'd track it down to a specific car within a day or two, and you could probably get it out that night. So kill hundreds in a subway, shutting down the system for a while, then take it back and do your dirty bomb the next day.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 13, 2013 @07:32PM (#45685433)

    A similar device got loose in Brazil back in 1987, and serves as an example of the kind of mayhem that can heppen when one of these sources get loose even in the hands of non-malicious people. The story on it in wikipedia is interesting - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goi%C3%A2nia_accident.

  • by xyzzymage (3415857) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @03:19AM (#45687597)

    There was no warning pictogram on the layer that the victims interacted with, which was found at the scrapyard that the thieves had sold the dismantled machine to. When the capsule was brought to a hospital, the staff couldn't figure out whether it was dangerous until a visiting nuclear physicist borrowed equipment from a government lab to check.

    The only person that 'played with' or smeared it on their skin was a six-year-old girl who died after eating a sandwich some of the grains/powder had fallen onto.

    Evidently only the initial scavengers/thieves were uneducated & poor. The guy that found the cesium-137 didn't handle it in a way that suggested a lack of money (sharing it, wanting to have it turned into a ring for his wife, offering rewards for helping extract it, etc.). The city the families lived at the edges of is similar to a standard major North American city and has a similar educational system, so chances are that they were as educated as anyone up here.

  • Re:So In Effect... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Solandri (704621) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @02:46PM (#45690165)
    I'll post this again since it's relevant. A hospital worker in Israel exposed himself to a cobalt-60 radiation source for 1-2 minutes while trying to fix a sterilizer. The IAEA report of the incident [iaea.org] is pretty detailed, including photos and x-rays documenting his injuries and eventual demise a month later.

    During the Cold War, the Soviets had vastly more tanks than NATO. So one of the common hypothetical scenarios was an unstoppable Soviet invasion led by their tanks. The NATO response plan included detonating airburst nukes over the advancing army. While these would directly kill only a few near the hypocenter, soldiers in a much larger area would receive a lethal dose of radiation. These so-called walking dead would survive to fight a few more days or weeks before succumbing to their injuries. I suspect this scenario and particularly the term "walking dead" played some part in the genesis of the modern zombie movie. The movie widely credited with creating the zombie horde theme (Night of the Living Dead) was filmed in the late 1960s during the height of the Cold War.

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