Radioactive material missing in the Philippines: Equipment containing nuclear material used to test soil, asphalt and concrete has been missing from Norzagaray town, Bulacan in the Philippines since August 2018. The device was reported missing to the Philippines Department of Science and Technology (DOST), reports of its loss were first published on 18 September 2018.
The equipment was identified as a moisture density gauge weighing around 41 kg, contained in an orange-coloured transport box measuring 30 x 14 x 17 inches.
Like similar incidents, the authorities have not revealed the actual model of the device lost nor the exact nature of the nuclear material used. According to a 24 Oras report by Susan Enriquez, the stolen item contains radioactive materials such as radium and caesium. This report also uses the word stolen rather than DOST use of missing – stolen suggests intent to either sell or use the device.
DOST have stated the device is fully shielded but the radioactive material emits high levels of ionising radiation and it would be very harmful if tampered with. DOST also offered warning and advice to scrap metal dealers to be on the lookout and doctors to be alert for patients presenting the symptoms of radiation exposure.
If the device is the similar to moisture density gauges found online, then it may be using a neutron source in addition to a gamma source. An un-shielded neutron source is more dangerous as neutrons activate elements in the environment and can penetrate quite far. If something is activated with neutrons, it will remain radioactive for a period even after you move the source to another location. A sealed gamma source doesn’t leave any residual radioactivity unless its enclosure is leaking. The sources are encapsulated in stainless steel, so the chances of accidental leakage are small. Of course, all bets are off if this has fallen into the hands of someone who is determined to do harm with the nuclear source and it continues to present a threat to anyone who unwittingly dismantles the device.
There was an earlier incident of radioactive material missing in the Philippines. The Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) on Tuesday warned about the health risks from similar equipment stolen from a construction company in Norzagaray, Bulacan in July.
The devices themselves are not the problem
Nuclear material in devices like these performs a valuable job, and these tools are not going away. What is needed is much stricter security around equipment like this and constant radiation monitoring to track and find any devices that do go missing.
There are frequent reports of missing or stolen radioactive material
This report of radioactive material missing in the Philippines is just the latest in a series of incidents of missing radioactive material including: