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Cobalt-60: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

A truck carrying the extremely sensitive and dangerous radioactive isotope, Cobalt-60 or C0-60, was stolen in Tijuana, Mexico, authorities announced on Wednesday December 4 reports NBC News.

The vehicle was transporting the isotope from a hospital to a radioactive waste facility when it was taken. The CO-60 was inside a radiotherapy machine. The material has the potential to spread cancer-inducing radioactivity across a wide area if it were to be released.

Here’s what you need to know:


1. Whoever Stole the C0-60 Could Make a ‘Dirty Bomb’

Cobalt-60 Truck Tijuana Mexico IAEA Radioactive Materials Stolen

A hazmat suit during a terrorist “dirty bomb” attack drill November 17 in Greenbrae, California. Marin County police, fire and health agencies conducted a joint emergency drill to simulate response to a terrorist dirty bomb attack on the Larkspur Ferry that travels between Marin County and San Francisco.

It can be used to make a dirty bomb, according to Jennifer Cole of the Royal United Services Institute. She said:

What happens with a dirty bomb is the material is exploded and each piece of shrapnel gives off radiation. Therefore it is over a large area and much harder to clear up. More than anything, this can cause panic as there’s a huge amount of fear when radiation or radioactive material is mentioned.

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2. The Thieves May Not Know What they Have on Their Hands

There have been recorded cases of the material being stolen before and after it was improperly stored, the thieves became ill or worse. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokeswoman told NBC News:

Such thefts are no uncommon, and the thieves do not necessarily know they have in their possession in addition to the vehicle that may have been the original target. In some cases, for example, radioactive sources have ended up being sold as scrap, causing serious health consequences for people who unknowingly come into contact with it.


3. It’s Mainly Used For Sterilization

The man uses for CO-60 include, the sterilization of medical equipment, a source of radiation in medical radiotherapy, insect sterilization. Using Cobalt-60 for use in a bomb has only been theorized and never been officially practiced.

In 1957, the British military tested a “dirty bomb” with Cobalt pellets in a testing range in Australia. According to the Nuclear Weapon Archive:

The experiment was regarded as a failure and not repeated.


4. US Border Patrols Are On Alert

Cobalt-60 Truck Tijuana Mexico IAEA Radioactive Materials Stolen

The radiotherapy machine where the C0-60 was stored.

After the theft in Tijuana on the morning of December 4, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are working with Mexican authorities to find the missing CO-60. Border officials are being armed with radiation detection devices, reports ABC News.


5. CO-60 Has Been Used as a Source of Fictional Horror

Cobalt-60 Truck Tijuana Mexico IAEA Radioactive Materials Stolen

The movie “Dr. Strangelove,” the Soviet Union had established a secret nuclear deterrent comprising 50 buried cobalt bombs.

Bombs made from CO-60 has been used in movies such as Goldfinger, Planet of the Apes and Dr. Strangelove.

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