Experts warn of loose radioactive materials in Vietnam

By Hai Sam - Thu Hang, Thanh Nien News

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Cards marked with radioactive materials were seized by Quang Ninh Police. Photo credit: Quang Ninh Police Cards marked with radioactive materials were seized by Quang Ninh Police. Photo credit: Quang Ninh Police

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The arrest of a man caught selling playing cards marked with a radioactive substance has sounded an alarm on the wide availability of the harmful element in illegal gambling dens, experts said.
“How can radioactive materials be smuggled from China into Vietnam so easily? This shows radioactive materials are flowing into residential areas and markets like so much coffee or vegetables,” said Dang Thanh Luong, former deputy director of Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety.
This could affect nuclear security if there is not strict management, he said.
“Relevant authorities must issue warnings to residents about the hazards of radioactive materials,” he said.
On August 15, Quang Ninh Police arrested Bui Dinh Chung of the northern province’s Cam Pha Town and confiscated four sets of playing cards marked with radioactive materials.
The Quang Ninh Department of Science and Technology determined that the playing cards exceeded radioactive safety levels by 30 times. Another sample sent to the Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology was identified as exuding a gamma-ray intensity of nearly 60 keV.
Chung confessed that radiation in the cards can be detected by a device that generates vibrates which notify a cheating gambler of the presence of each marked card.
Police are filing charges of “stockpiling and trading radioactive materials” against Chung and expanding investigation.
Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Quang Dung of the Ministry of Public Security told Thanh Nien that police arrested a gambler in Hanoi in 2006 for possessing playing cards marked with radioactive materials.
The gambler admitted that his child's hair fell out soon after he brought the cards into their home.
A gambler in Quang Ninh, who asked to remain anonymous, said radioactive cards have been used for a long time in the northern province.
“However, not many people use them due to the high price (more than VND3 million (US$142) per deck),” he said.
“Besides, gamblers can become very tired of playing for long with these cards. Sometimes, they're too tired to stand up after the game ends.”
Following the latest arrest, the Ministry of Public Security coordinated with the Ministry of Science and Technology to investigate the illegal trade of radioactive substances.
“To maintain social safety, we need to put an immediate stop to the illegal possession and trade of playing cards marked with radioactive substances,” said Le Quang Hiep, deputy director of Vietnam's Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety.
Hiep said most of these cards were made in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Meanwhile, Tran Kim Tuan, director of the Hanoi-based Institute of Nuclear Engineering and Environmental Physics, said any contact with radiation is harmful to humans.
“The degree of danger is based on the time the person makes contact with the radioactive materials and at what intensity the contact occurs,” he said.

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