Radioactive Material Stolen in Argentina … Again

Philipp Kreis
Philipp Kreis
Philipp is an international security expert and journalist with a master's focus on intelligence and global risks. With work experience in the German and European Parliament, his expertise spans nuclear weapons proliferation, naval power, and peacebuilding across Europe, Latin America, and the Indo-Pacific.

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On Tuesday, July 2, Argentina’s Nuclear Regulatory (ARN) alarmed the public about a stolen radiopharmaceutical container in Buenos Aires. The incident occurred only six weeks after the theft of a container with the same radiopharmaceutical.

A Theft in Buenos Aires

The container was stolen from a parked vehicle in front of the British Hospital in Barracas in southeastern Buenos Aires. The van driver told the Argentine news outlet Infobae that they noticed the missing container upon returning to their vehicle. Moreover, they linked the theft to rising insecurity in the area and doubted that the thief knew what they were stealing.

The 24cm x 24cm (9 in x 9 in) box, marked with a radioactive symbol, contains a Styrofoam insulator and a metal can. The metal can shields a glass container holding 45ml (1.5oz) of the radiopharmaceutical iodine-131, which is used for medical diagnoses and treatments. When handled by amateurs, the radioactive material could damage health.

Upon being informed of the theft, ARN activated its Radiological Emergency Intervention System (SIER) and notified the National System for Integral Risk Management (SINAGIR). The Special Risk Brigade of the Argentine Federal Police has been tasked with recovering the container. The ARN urged citizens to maintain a minimum distance of 10 meters (33 feet) when encountering the material.

A banner on the ARN's website urging citizens to stay clear of the stolen radiopharmaceutical

The Second Incident within Six Weeks

A similar incident occurred in May. As Atlas News reported on May 16, a container of iodine-131 was stolen from the Argentine company Tecnonuclear in Saavedra in northern Buenos Aires. After the ARN triggered the same protocol, the container was found in a trash bin a week later on May 21, following an attentive citizen’s hint. The container was found to be undamaged. The ARN has launched an investigation into the incident.

The likelihood of the radioactive material being used to build a “dirty bomb” remains low, given the insufficient amount of material and iodine-131’s short half-life that quickly diminishes radioactivity.