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Missing Caesium-137 cylinder spotted at car wash

PHOTO: A missing cylinder of ratio active isotope Caesium-137 may have been spotted at a car wash. (via Thai PBS World)

If you stole a cylinder of an isotope that is a main contributor to the total radiation released during nuclear accidents, would you throw it in your truck and go about your normal day? Authorities searching for a capsule of Caesium-137 believed to be stolen from a power plant in Prachin Buri on February 23 are following up on a lead from a car wash. An employee at the car wash reported seeing an “iron” cylinder, similar to the one containing a capsule of Caesium-137, in the back of the pickup.

Police in the Si Maha Phot district of Prachin Buri, are searching for the owner of a pickup truck who had his vehicle cleaned at a local car wash about three weeks ago. The cylinder was reported missing from a steam power plant in the same district on Friday, March 10.

Both an employee and his boss told police that the cylinder on the truck cleaned at the car wash resembled the one in a photo of the missing isotope. The truck belongs to a security guard employed at the 304 industrial park located in the same province.

The Office of Atoms for Peace, and Prachin Buri Police equipped workers with radiation detectors to search numerous scrap yards in the Si Maha Phot district and throughout the province but have not found any trace of the radioactive material.

The company that owns the cylinder has offered a reward of 100,000 baht to anyone who provides information on the whereabouts of the missing Caesium-137.

The Emergency Health Division is also on standby, with Public Health Ministry permanent secretary Opart Karnkawinpong ordering the department to prepare a list of radiation experts to also be on alert. Opart says Nopparat Rajathanee and Ramathibodi hospitals have been instructed to coordinate with the Division if people become exposed to radiation and need treatment.

He noted that brief exposure to radioactive material will not have much effect on one’s health, but prolonged exposure to the radiation can be harmful. Staff at the power plant also said the material will not damage one’s health unless the cylinder is dismantled.

In the unfortunate event that the cylinder is taken apart, Caesium-137 is invisible and has no odour, making it hard to determine if one is exposed. But it is highly dangerous if not handled properly. Upon exposure, the body will suffer from body tissue decay and radiation sickness from beta and gamma radiation which can result in nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and in severe cases, death.

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