Radioactive isotopes stolen from Iraq
Iraq is searching for "highly dangerous" radioactive material stolen last year, according to an environment ministry document procured by Reuters. Several security, environmental and provincial officials fear that the isotope could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State militants. A spokesman for Iraq's environment ministry said he could not discuss the issue, citing national security concerns.
What was stolen?
10 gm of Iridium-192 capsules were stolen from a storage facility near Basra belonging to U.S. oil-field services company Weatherford. It was from a device that uses gamma rays to test flaws in materials used for oil and gas pipelines in a process called industrial gamma radiography. The material was stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer.
What is Ir-192?
Ir-192 is classed as a Category 2 radioactive source by the IAEA, meaning that if not managed properly it could cause permanent injury or death to a person in close proximity to it for minutes or hours.
Ir-192 in a dirty bomb?
A dirty bomb combines nuclear material with conventional explosives to contaminate an area with radiation. It is not a nuclear bomb, but acts as a means to spread radioactive contaminants. Even though the IS has not been control of areas around Basra, sources indicated that the material was actually lost in November, triggering fears that it may be used in a 'dirty bomb'.
Officials search high and low for missing isotopes
An emergency task force of the Iraqi government raised the alarm on Nov. 13 when they discovered the theft and reported it to the IAEA. Officials said counter-radiation teams had begun inspecting oil sites, scrapyards and border crossings to locate the device. They were also coordinating with local hospitals to identify burn victims whose injuries may be consistent with radiation damage.
Was it an inside job?
Senior security officials in Baghdad said that the initial inquiry suggested the perpetrators had specific knowledge of the material and the facility. "No broken locks, no smashed doors and no evidence of forced entry."
Ir-192, most commonly stolen radioactive isotope?
In May 2010, 6 lead containers of radioactive 192-Ir were stolen from a truck owned by ProTechnics of Houston, Texas. In May 2014, a Chinese man stole an Ir-192 pellet from his work place at the Fifth Construction Co, part of China's oil refiner Sinopec In April 2015, an unknown quantity of Ir-192 was stolen from the back of a transport truck in Mexico.