back to article Mexican Cobalt-60 robbers are DEAD MEN, say authorities

Mexican troops have recovered a stolen shipment of radioactive Cobalt-60 isotope, abandoned by truck thieves who face the risk of a slow lingering death from radiation poisoning. A truck carrying a substantial quantity of the radioactive isotope Cobalt-60 from a hospital in Tijuana to a waste centre was robbed by armed bandits …


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  1. hplasm Silver badge

    The wages of sin, and all that-

    But still, a horrible way to go.

  2. phil dude

    slow death...

    When you read about the actual clinical consequence of radiation "poisoning", it is really very sad. I put poisoning in quotes since it is not a traditional chemical poison, but ionising radiation creating sufficinet double-stranded DNA breaks that outpace DNA repair metabolism.

    Not nice, and almost as sad as thieves stealing live copper cables...


    1. peter 45

      Re: slow death...

      I'm trying to be sad....but I just can't.

      1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

        Re: slow death...

        How about considering their time line?

        This happened Wednesday 4 Dec. The authorities say that exposure to the unshielded source will provide a fatal dose if the criminals were close enough, and estimate that a period of a few minutes to an hour would be needed for this. Assuming that they got a lowish fatal dose, my look-up chart reckons that they will be vomiting by 11 Dec, losing hair by 18 Dec, and dead by 25 Dec.

        Happy Christmas....

        1. Marvin the Martian

          Re: slow death...

          Alternatively you can read it as "we cannot be arsed to look into it; it will solve itself; we live in a war zone anyhows:

      2. Squander Two


        Just remember what Mexico's criminal classes do to the country's murder rate. Let's not shed tears for the bastards, eh?

  3. Ol'Peculier

    Wait to see how long it takes before every delivery company puts "might be carrying nuclear waste" on the back door of their vans. Good deterrent.

    1. Psyx

      Yeah, then they'll only get 'jacked by potential terrorists, rather than amateurs.

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: Psyx

        " Yeah, then they'll only get 'jacked by potential terrorists, rather than amateurs." LOL, can you just imagine the court scene:

        "Yes, M'Lud, the accused is the only survivor of the gang that carjacked six trucks they thought carried radioactive Cobalt-60, only to find even worse material with a hal-life of thousands of years - shipments of Twinkies! By the time authorities tracked them to their lair the other members of the gang had died from chronic obesity...."

    2. aqk
      Black Helicopters

      I'm resonably sure the truck and the container already had warnings - both large radiation symbols and text in Spanish. But dolts were probably illiterate.

  4. Vociferous

    Moral of this story: Don't handle pellets which give off a pretty blue light.

    And if you do find yourself in possession of weird pellets which give off a pretty blue light, don't eat them, like people did in 1983.

    1. Yet Another Commentard

      Re: Moral of this story: Don't handle pellets which give off a pretty blue light.

      My alma mater had a small reactor which I visited once, and you could stand above it and look down through the water at the business end. Cherenkov radiation is really very, very beautiful. It's an odd diffuse light that seems to have no source, which is hard to describe. It's not like a torch in mist, there is no "beam" just a glow.

      In any event "don't eat the glowing pellets" is good advice for life, more so even than "don't eat the yellow snow".

      1. xenny

        Re: Moral of this story: Don't handle pellets which give off a pretty blue light.

        "Metric" College?

        1. Yet Another Commentard

          Re: Moral of this story: Don't handle pellets which give off a pretty blue light.


    2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Moral of this story: Don't handle pellets which give off a pretty blue light.

      That'll help you if you're dealing with a hydrophilic compound of a radioactive element that has been exposed to water and is emitting Čerenkov radiation.

      Pellets of 60Co won't glow on their own.

    3. Euripides Pants Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Morel of the story

      Eat 'shrooms instead

  5. Dan Paul

    Radiation Monitoring

    This is why junkyards should be required to check radiation levels in scrap as it is received. Many US Border crossings now have radiation detector tubes on each truck and car lane since the whole 9/11 thing but there is no law requiring scrappers to check and certify each load as it comes in to a junkyard.

    The real problem is that once the radioactive material has been smelted in with the rest of the scrap, there is no way to remove the radiation except to let the half life decay process take care of the lethal dose.

    That small container of pellets is now melted into TONS of contaminated scrap. Try safely disposing of that.

    This used to happen quite often before there were Federal regulations regarding the cradle to grave disposal of radioactive sources. Small hometown Dentists, Doctors and Vets had portable XRay devices and the earliest ones used Cobalt sources instead of electric X Ray tubes. When the Doctor died, no one knew what that heavy thing in the basement was and they got scrapped.

    I sold Nuclear Level Gauges for several years (they can "see" liquid through inches of solid steel) and the gentleman that was the radiation officer for the manufacturer told me that he knew of a lost source from a gauge (encapsulated Cesium 137) that was demolished out of a chemical plant that had been used as a boat anchor because it was heavy, had an eyehook on it and was the size of a coffee can. Thankfully the shutter spring had never rotted off it. They found it when it crossed a border in a boat trailer. Had the shutter spring failed, it would have inadvertently dosed hundreds of people. Had it been scrapped and smelted it would be a "small" nuclear disaster.

    See for interesting (and scary) details under incidents

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Radiation Monitoring

      Have no time to search for the article right this moment, but this is not the first time something similar happened in Mexico. Half of one of their cities is radioactive now as an X-Ray machine was accidentally dumped in a metal scrap yard. The ball bearing rolled all over and got in lots of other equipment/scrap that was recycled for construction.


      1. kevin king

        Re: Radiation Monitoring

        At Samut Prakarn, Thailand (not Mexico) a 15.7 TBq (425 Ci) cobalt-60 teletherapy source was lost, attempts were made by some scrap metal workers to recycle the metal. During this time humans were subject to irradation by the source.

        It was found that at the edge of the scrap yard the dose rate was about 1 to 10 mSv hr−1. The exact location of the source in the scrap yard was determined using a fluorescent screen which acted as a scintillator. This was held on the end of a long pole.

      2. Suricou Raven

        Re: Radiation Monitoring

        X-ray machines generate their radiation by accelerating an electron beam into a target. Whatever the machine was that ended up in that dump, it wasn't x-ray. More likely either a radiotherepy machine or an industrial source. They are used for quality control in metalworking.

        1. OldWarrior

          Re: Radiation Monitoring

          The story I read said a Radiotherapy Machine. Generally industrial radiation sources must be smaller in order to increase detail of the resultant radiograph. Smaller source=greater detail due to less penumbra (the blurred edge of a shadow). Sources have to be replaced after about 3-5 years as treatment times become too long as the material decays. Cobalt 60 emits Gamma only at 1.02 Million Electron Volt level. At that level there is an effect called "Pair Production", where a Gamma Ray interacts with atoms, which causes the release of 2 electrons (Beta Particles) and 2 Positrons. The Positrons immediately react with 2 electrons, annihilating all 4 but releasing 4 more Gamma rays, but at an energy level too low to cause more "Pair Production".

          There was a theft in the US in the mid-70's, where the thief put the source in his shirt pocket after taking it out of it's container. The rule of thumb is that the greatest effect of a radiation dose occurs ~7-10 days post exposure, so these victims are only now peaking.

    2. Glen Turner 666

      Re: Radiation Monitoring

      Required here in Australia. The sensors are typically mounted on the input hopper and on the forklifts. Where I live in Port Adelaide there was an incident recently where a forklift sensor alarmed and the quick thinking and selfless operator drove the forklift well away from the factory's buildings before running.

    3. aqk

      Re: Radiation Monitoring on your feet?

      Heh! Tell me about it. When I was a kid in the early '50s, all the shoe stores (in Quebec) had devices that you could stick your feet into, to see if your delicate foot bones were not cramped in the new shoe.

      No? Then, madame, your son has a fine fit!

      We kids used to go into the local shoe store on our own, and have fun staring at the flourescence, sometimes wriggling our toes, putting a penny on top of the shoe to see how transparent it was (not very), etc..

      One day the government came around and seized all these devices, saying they were, uhh.. unsafe.

      mais pourquoi?

      C'est pas tes affaires, punk! Sors d'ici!

      Sixty years later I still look at my feet to see if they perchance glow in the dark.

      Ah well, I guess all the offending ions got pissed and shat out decades ago.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    I humbly submit this for the Darwin awards.

    On the other hand, as other have pointed out, it doesn't really seem that funny :(

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "I humbly submit this for the Darwin awards. On the other hand, as other have pointed out, it doesn't really seem that funny :("

      To the hard hearted it is indeed funny. Fucking thieving bastards, serve 'em right. Just like the c*nts who steal live power cables.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > To the hard hearted

        You mean to the Schadenfreuder. Which is a remarkably pathetic thing to be.

        1. Wzrd1

          "You mean to the Schadenfreuder. Which is a remarkably pathetic thing to be."

          Thanks! I learned a new word today. :)

          I know know the proper term for the disgusting, pathetic excuse of a human who enjoys harm being visited upon others.

      2. Tom 13

        Re: To the hard hearted it is indeed funny.

        Not funny, just well deserved.

    2. Someone Else Silver badge

      Most Darwin award nominees are actually rather sad.

      1. Nigel 11

        But far more ingeneous

    3. Daniel B.

      Darwin award

      I'd probably agree with the Darwin award as well. Unlike the 1983 incident, it seems that the only dudes who got Chunky Rad Exposure were the robbers themselves, so no innocent bystanders affected. And given the violence involved in truck-jacking (or many gunpoint crimes in Mexico), I hope they die a slow and very painful death.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Darwin award

        Mmmm, but they haven't died yet. At-risk survivor then?

        Do they have kids already? It might be an honorary mention if they do pass on early.

        1. Joe User

          Re: Darwin award

          The Darwin Award has been amended to include people who survive but render themselves incapable of breeding. This dose of radiation should qualify one way or the other.

      2. Wzrd1

        Re: Darwin award

        "I hope they die a slow and very painful death."

        I find it fascinating how *anyone* would desire anyone to suffer a tortuous death.

        However, it's quite likely that the one who handled the source is already dead. Any within two meters ill, further away would depend on how long the source and they were in any proximity.

        But, I for one am civilized and would not desire anyone to suffer for any crime, regardless of severity.

        1. Squander Two

          Re: Darwin award @Wzrd1

          > I for one am civilized and would not desire anyone to suffer for any crime, regardless of severity.

          A civilized criminal justice system should not involve slow lingering deaths. But if some criminals happen to visit such a death on themselves, I don't see the problem.

          We're willing to accept that some dangerous jobs -- on oil rigs, major construction projects, in aerospace, etc, and of course the military -- carry a risk of horrible deaths and crippling injuries and that the people who do these jobs willingly and knowingly accept those risks. We don't wish the pain on them, but we accept that it can happen and we respect their right to take the risk. And they're generally productive members of society doing important jobs that help us. I see no problem with applying basically the same reasoning to criminals, only with a bit less pity as all they're trying to do is harm innocent people for money.

  7. i like crisps

    Doubt it will KILL them...

    ...but they might want to avoid having an XRAY for the next few years.

    1. Yet Another Commentard

      Re: Doubt it will KILL them...

      Or children.

      1. i like crisps

        Re: Doubt it will KILL them...

        You never know, the kids might end up with superpowers a'la XMEN.....either that or no eyeballs....

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Doubt it will KILL them...

          Daleks require radiation to survive...

          1. i like crisps

            Re: Doubt it will KILL them...

            I did not know that TRT. Thank you for increasing my Knowledge base....have an upvote.....Oh yeah, best Dr Who? for me....Tom Baker.

            1. TRT Silver badge
    2. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      Re: Doubt it will KILL them...

      The incident in Thailand back in 2000 killed three.

  8. Alistair Silver badge

    education issue.

    Every disposal container *I've* ever seen -- and I have family in the hospital biz --

    has a great huge honking label on it .

    I don't imagine that even in Mexico, in even the smallest hospital, that the radiologist packing it up wouldn't make sure that label was in place.

    Darwin award candidates - make sure they don't have children first, and I'm guessing that they are stupid enough not to KNOW they have children if they opened something with that label on it.

    1. Daniel B.

      Re: education issue.

      Indeed, all radioactive stuff has explicit labels like the all-known fan-shaped one and "MATERIAL RADIOACTIVO" stamped on it. They probably didn't check the cargo until after hearing the news about what exactly they had stolen. And even then they were stupid enough to open the container … that makes them doubly stupid!

      1. i like crisps

        Re: education issue.

        or MATERIAL......SCORCHIO!!!!

      2. ridley

        Re: education issue.

        There is a related problem with the disposal of radioactive waste. Ie what warning message do you put on the site?

        After all putting a great big warning message on a highly secure box/storage facility will just make some people think "I wonder what is really in there that they are so keen to hide?"

        Shortly followed by "Ooh thats a pretty light"

        1. Don Jefe

          Re: education issue.

          Warning symbols are really weird things anyway, I collect photos of them. Some are hilarious. Some only make sense if you understand the greater context and some are so far out there as to have the completely opposite effect they were intended to have, they seem to point to something good.

          The proposed warnings for the Yucca Mountain waste repository are probably the weirdest I've ever seen. It's got pirates and aliens and all sorts of mixed messages going on and that's in context. What people will make of them in 1000+ years is anyone's guess.

        2. pepper

          Re: education issue.

          Ah yes, you are correct Ridley, put 'Do not touch', or 'No Handle' on any part of a aircraft and people are bound to use it as climbing equipment or wiggle it about a bit to see what it does!

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: education issue.

            It's the "Forbidden Fruit" effect: plain and simple. And it's this that makes keeping people out of a place virtually impossible. That's the dilemma. Try to hide it and by the law of averages, someone will stumble upon it by chance. Put a sign of any kind on it, and you polarize people: some will stay away while others will have just the opposite effect and be ATTRACTED to it. And since the effect is based on curiosity (a basic human trait), it's not something you can easily mitigate.

        3. Piro

          Re: education issue.

          ISO 21482 is designed specifically for this.

          It's a pretty serious warning sign.


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