Central & South Asia

Radioactive material missing in Kazakhstan

Authorities search for container holding isotope caesium-137 which police say appears to have fallen off a vehicle.

Last updated: 03 Sep 2014 08:20
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback

Authorities in Kazakhstan are on high alert after a container holding the highly radioactive and dangerous substance caesium-137 disappeared in the west of the country, local police have said.

A police spokesman for the Mangistau region said on Tuesday that the material - used for medical purposes and also a by-product of nuclear explosions and reactors - appeared to have fallen off a vehicle transporting it.

"The container with the radioactive isotope caesium-137 has not been found so far," Azamat Sarsenbayev told the AFP news agency, adding that authorities discovered it had gone missing last Wednesday.

Exposure to caesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years, can result in severe burns or even death, and locals have been warned not to open the container if they find it.

World leaders meet for nuclear security talks

The country's security services, emergency response workers and the military have been involved in efforts to find the container, which weighs about 50kg to 60kg.

The origin of the missing material was not revealed by authorities in Kazakhstan, which inherited nuclear warheads and a weapons test site when the Soviet Union collapsed.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN atomic watchdog, made no immediate comment on Tuesday.

Caesium-137 is just one of many radioactive substances used in hospitals, universities and industry worldwide. Others include iridium-192, americium-241 - used in smoke detectors - and cobalt-60.

Every year, dozens of cases of loss, theft or unauthorised activity are reported to the IAEA, and there have been numerous incidents of these substances causing serious illness and fatalities.

Governments fear lost materials could be used to make a "dirty bomb" - a device whereby conventional explosives disperse radioactive materials.


Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
UNHCR says hundreds of people trapped in Yaloke town risk death if they are not evacuated to safety urgently.
'Justice for All' demonstrations swell across the US over the deaths of African Americans in police encounters.
Six former Guantanamo detainees are now free in Uruguay with some hailing the decision to grant them asylum.
Disproportionately high number of Aboriginal people in prison highlights inequality and marginalisation, critics say.
Long-standing dispute over Christian use of the word 'Allah' raises concerns about a very un-Merry Christmas.
The threat posed by ISIL has prompted thousands of young Kurds to join the PKK.
Baja California - with its own grim history of disappeared people - finds a voice in the fight against violence.
Russian feminist rockers fight system holding 700,000 - the world's largest per capita prison population after the US.
Weeks of growing protests against Muslims continue in Dresden with 15,000 hitting the streets last Monday.