Bangkok, Thailand () — Authorities in Thailand are searching for a metal cylinder with dangerous radioactive contents that went missing from a power plant this week, warning the public of serious health risks if found.
The revelation comes just two months after Australia was forced to launch a similar search to find a small radioactive capsule that was eventually located on the side of a road.
But while that Australian capsule was lost in the remote outback of the country, hundreds of miles from the nearest major city, the Thai boat disappeared in a much more populated area.
The cylinder, which measures 30 centimeters long and 13 centimeters wide, was reported missing during routine checks by staff on March 10 at the coal-fired power plant in Prachin Buri, a province in central Thailand. , east of the capital, Bangkok.
The province has a population of nearly half a million and is home to some of Thailand’s best national parks, including the famous Khao Yai National Park, popular with local and international tourists.
The parks are a common day trip from nearby Bangkok, a sprawling megacity of some 14 million people.
Used to measure ash, the cylinder was part of a silo and contains cesium-137, a highly radioactive substance that scientists say is potentially lethal.
Search teams and drones were deployed to recover the missing cylinder, according to a statement from the Office of Atoms for Peace (OAP), a government regulator for nuclear and radioactive research in Thailand.
Assistant Secretary General Pennapa Kanchana told on Wednesday that radioactive detection equipment was being used to locate the cylinder.
“We are looking at waste recycling stores in the area,” he said. “We are (using) inspection equipment to detect signals. For the areas we cannot reach, we have sent drones and robots.”
Also involved in the search are Thai police, who believe the cylinder has been missing since February, but the National Power Plant 5 company did not officially report its loss until last Friday.
Police have examined CCTV footage of the plant, Si Maha Phot district police chief Mongkol Thopao told , but they were hampered by “limited views” of the machine.
“It is unclear if the item was stolen and sold to a recycling store or misplaced elsewhere,” Mongkol said. “We’ve sent our teams to area recycling stores… we still couldn’t find it.”
Experts warn that cesium-137 can create serious health problems for people who come in contact with it: skin burns from close exposure, radiation sickness, and potentially fatal cancer risks, especially for those unknowingly exposed for long periods of time. periods of time.
Cesium-137 has a half-life of about 30 years, which means it could pose a risk to the population for decades to come if it is not found.
Pennapa, from the Atoms for Peace Office, urged the public not to panic.
“If people in general (come) in contact without knowing it, the health effects will depend on the level of intensity (of radiation). If it’s high, the first thing we’ll see is skin irritation.”
This is not the first time something like this has happened in Thailand.
In 2000 two junk collectors bought canisters containing another radioactive isotope, cobalt-60, and took it to a junkyard where they cracked it open, according to the Congressional Research Service report.
Some workers suffered burn-like injuries, and ultimately three people died and seven others suffered radiation injuries, according to the report. Nearly 2,000 other people who lived nearby were exposed to radiation.
But Pennapa said the missing canister is currently much less radioactive than the 2000 incident.
The latest case in Thailand follows a similar incident in Western Australia in January when a small capsule, also containing Cesium-137, was lost along a remote outback road while being transported from an iron ore mine to a warehouse in Perth.
After a challenging six-day search, the capsule was finally found and officials are still investigating how it apparently fell out of the back of a vehicle during transit.
Nuclear radiation experts in Australia who previously spoke to said the loss of that capsule was “very unusual” and discussed the challenges of recovering such a small device.
But one good thing, they said, was that the search area was extremely isolated.
“Therefore, it is very unlikely that it will have much of an impact (on people),” said Ivan Kempson, associate professor of biophysics at the University of South Australia.
But there were some previous examples, Kempson noted, of people finding similar things and getting radiation poisoning.
“The concern … is the potential impact on the health of the person who would find the capsule,” he said.