A container of highly radioactive material that has been recently found missing from a steel mill in southern Vietnam could have been stolen for metal recycling, a local official said on Tuesday.
Search teams had been sent to local recyclers in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province to look for the capsule of Pomina 3 plant, but were yet to find it, Mai Thanh Quang, director of the province’s Department of Science and Technology, said.
They also did not find anything at a dumping site where an employee reported that he used to see a suspicious object, according to the official.
Quang said local authorities will find the radioactive source “by all means,” even if it means that they will have to scour scrap trading businesses across the province as well as nearby Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Duong and Dong Nai.
Pomina 3’s managers reported that the capsule, which contained cobalt-60, was found missing on March 25, soon after Dao Duc Hung, an employee in charge of the factory’s radiation safety, handed over his job to another. Hung failed to explain for its disappearance.
Imported in 2010, the container was last seen and recorded at the end of 2014 when it was removed from one of the mill’s production lines that broke down.
No records showed that it was sent to the mill’s warehouse after the removal.
Local authorities said one can be exposed to radiation with the level of 2.5 millisieverts per hour when being about 10 centimeters from the capsule.
That level is alarmingly high, considering the annual dose limit for the general public is 1 millisievert.
In the wake of the Ba Ria-Vung Tau incident, authorities in HCMC announced on Tuesday that they would start installing positioning devices on 124 out of more than 200 containers of radioactive material that are being used around the city, news website VnExpress reported.
The target containers are often moved around, they said, adding that they will apply the anti-theft devices on the rest later.
Nguyen Khac Thanh, vice director of the city’s department of science and technology, was quoted as saying radioactive sources are mainly managed by their owners, while authorities only know about their quantities and properties.
This management method can pose risks to public safety, he said.
In fact, the city’s authorities made the plan soon after a subsidiary of the French-owned Apave Group reported in September last year that it had lost a radiographic device containing highly-radioactive Iridium-192 from its warehouse.
About one week later the device was found at the place of an unemployed man who admitted to stealing it without knowing what it was.
Can Van Minh, deputy chief of the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety, said his agency licensed more than 6,000 radioactive sources which are currently active around the country.
Another 1,867 sources have been licensed as well, but are not in use, he said.