Thailand says radiation threat contained while fate of missing cylinder unknown

Photo: Office of Atoms for Peace
Photo: Office of Atoms for Peace

Government authorities continue to insist at the highest levels that there is no threat of radioactive contamination in Prachinburi province or other areas caused by a missing device packed with a dangerous isotope that went missing.

But while Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha and the Thai nuclear agency have stressed that no additional Cesium-137 has been found outside the steel smelting plant where it was discovered Sunday, it remains unknown whether it even came from the industrial cylinder that went missing late last month.

The Pollution Control Department and Atoms for Peace Office said they checked around the plant on order of the Prime Minister’s Office and found no radiation or additional contamination. 

That hasn’t dismissed fear that has taken hold.

Fear that radioactive dust could blow long distances to contaminate ecosystems and poison people who inhale it have gripped those fearing a repeat of a 2000 incident southeast of Bangkok, where a Cobalt-60 device was stolen by scrappers and cracked open, killing three.

Greenpeace Thailand and EARTH Thailand said yesterday that despite closing the facility, the relevant agencies involved could not conclusively link the radiation they found to the missing tube. They faulted the plant it went missing from for waiting days to notify the authorities.

Cesium-137 is a gamma emitter with a half-life of 30 years. Any potential contamination can pose risks to humans for decades to come. 

Exposure to large amounts of Cesium-137 can cause burns, acute radiation sickness, and even death. Exposure to high-energy gamma radiation can increase the risk of cancer. 

The radioactive cylinder, which is about 20 centimeters long and 15 centimeters in diameter, went missing in late February. 

Believed by police to have been stolen by scrappers, its disappearance from the National Power Plant 5A wasn’t reported to the police until March 10. 


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