HomeAsiaSearch intensifies for weeks-missing radioactive canister in Thailand

Search intensifies for weeks-missing radioactive canister in Thailand

BANGKOK — In Thailand, a steel container with dangerously radioactive contents has disappeared from a coal-fired power plant and may have been missing for three weeks, or possibly longer. The search, which began a week ago, has been expanded repeatedly but has so far turned up nothing.

Globally, radioactive objects are quite frequently lost, sometimes incorrectly discarded, and pose a lethal hazard to those who find them. Its potential value to terrorists is another concern.

In this case, the power company that operates the plant where the boat disappeared has raised concerns that a scavenger might have taken it to sell. Despite a cash reward for information leading to its recovery, there has so far been no sign of the 55-pound boat, which is eight inches long and five inches in diameter.

This contained cesium-137, a dangerous isotope, said Narong Nakornjinda, governor of Prachin Buri province. Exposure to the substance, which is used in small amounts in various industrial devices in the form of a white crystalline powder, can cause cancer, burns, radiation sickness and death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. USA

The isotope can last in detectable amounts for up to 300 years.

The missing canister, one of 14, was being used to measure steam pressure at the plant and had been there since 1995. The National Public Energy Supply Company, which owns the plant, said it did not know when the canister went missing. . But on February 23, some workers heard a noise that sounded like the boat falling to the ground, said Kittiphan Chitpentham, the company spokesman.

Plant workers first noticed the canister missing from its stand during a monthly inspection on March 10. They reported the loss to the Atoms for Peace Office, the country’s main authority for nuclear research, the same day.

The nuclear agency deployed drones, robots and search teams with radioactive detection equipment in the days that followed. Together with local police, they searched more than a dozen junk shops in the area on Tuesday. They examined footage from the power plant’s security cameras and checked local hospitals for patients showing signs of radiation sickness. But they couldn’t find the boat.

On Thursday, the search was expanded to the neighboring province of Chachoengsao, doubling the area being searched to nearly 4,000 square miles. As of Friday, the search continued.

“Now we are confused,” Kittiphan said, “wondering how she disappeared, when and where.”

Several radioactive objects have recently disappeared, including in the United States. A chamber containing radioactive material is missing from the houston area since last week, Texas officials said Monday. In another recent case, more than 2.5 tons of natural uranium was found to be missing from Libya on Tuesday.

The US government recently launched a national campaign effort to remove certain highly radioactive materials from hospitals and other civilian sites to counter the threat of terrorist acquisition.

This is not the first civilian radiation accident in Thailand. In 2000, 10 people developed symptoms of radiation poisoning after opening canisters containing cobalt-60 that had been illegally dumped at a junkyard in a suburb of Bangkok, according to a report. report by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Three of them ultimately died from that exposure.

The area where the current boat disappeared, Prachin Buri province, is home to nearly half a million people, as well as several national parks that are popular tourist destinations near Bangkok, a three-hour drive away.

Those circumstances make it a contrast to an equally frantic search in Australia in January. There, a much smaller container of caesium-137 was lost in a remote outback, but was found in just six days.

Mukta Suhartono reported from Bangkok, and Juan Yoon from seoul.

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