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Radioactive material stolen in Mexico as part of truck heist

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UN agency says thieves stole "extremely dangerous" material from a truck outside Mexico City

road in the mountains stock 1020
road in the mountains stock 1020

The UN's atomic energy watchdog today announced that a truck carrying dangerous radioactive material has been stolen in Mexico, adding that the material could be used to produce a dirty bomb. As AFP reports, the truck was carrying the material from a hospital in Tijuana to a waste center before it was stolen near Mexico City. Suspects have yet to be named, though Mexican authorities have alerted the public and are currently investigating.

The cobalt-60 material onboard was used for medical purposes, and was properly sealed at the time of the robbery, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement Wednesday. It could be "extremely dangerous," however, if the thieves remove or damage the shielding. Cobalt-60 is a synthetic radioactive isotope used in a variety of industrial applications and for medical radiotherapy. It is usually held in medical containers that prevent people from being exposed for strong radiation.

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In the US, officials have sought to better secure nuclear materials held at hospitals and other sites, amid fears that terrorists could easily obtain them to create bombs. A 2012 congressional audit found serious gaps in security at several US hospitals, raising concerns among experts.

The IAEA says the materials stolen in Mexico could not be used to create a conventional nuclear weapon, though they could theoretically be used to create a dirty bomb, which would disperse radioactive material across wide areas. The IAEA has confirmed more than 2,000 cases of illicit trafficking of nuclear material between 1993 and 2012, including the 2011 arrest of six people in Moldovia accused of trying to sell uranium on the black market. In 2012, a radioactive rod went missing from Halliburton's facilities in Texas, before authorities recovered it one month later.