Radioactive Material Stolen in Argentina

Argentina’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ARN) announced in a statement published Wednesday that a container housing radioactive material intended for use in medical treatments was stolen from a transport vehicle during its loading in Buenos Aires.

The ARN stated the material belonged to the Tecnonuclear, a company based in Buenos Aires that supplies more than 70 percent of Argentina’s radiopharmaceutical “diagnostic and treatment services.” The material stolen is known as iodine-131, radioactive material normally used in medical imaging, the treatment of thyroid conditions, and the treatment of some cancers.

The ARN began efforts to locate the radioactive material immediately, informing the Radiological Safety Section of the Federal Police of the theft while launching radiological surveys into nearby areas. However, these efforts have been unable to locate the missing material as of this moment.

The loss of radioactive material poses a health hazard for the surrounding area. Previous instances where radioactive material was stolen or lost have resulted in a number of individuals contracting radiation poisoning, leading to a number of deaths.

One such case occurred in 1962 in Mexico City, when a young boy discovered and took home an unprotected radioactive source believed to have been left in the yard of his home by an engineer. This source would be left in the boy’s home for an estimated four months, leading to the deaths of the boy, his sister, his mother, who was pregnant at the time, and his grandmother. His father survived the exposure to radiation but was consequently left sterile, according to a UNSCEAR report.

Other than the threat of a health hazard, there remains a chance for the material to be used in the creation of a “dirty bomb,” an explosive device that can contaminate the area of activation. This possibility remains low, as the amount of radioactive material is likely insufficient to be used in this way alongside iodine-131’s short half life which quickly diminishes its radioactivity.