About 100 cases of theft or unauthorised use of radioactive material are reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency each year

Robot removes radioactive cobalt dumped in Mexico

Mexican nuclear safety experts have used a robot to remove the shipment of radioactive cobalt that was dumped in Mexico after a truck carrying it to a nuclear storage facility had been stolen.

The retrieval operation lasted for almost a week as the radioactive material was too dangerous to let humans remove it. To allow the robot to reach the site, workers had to clear the path in the cornfield as bales of corn stalks were blocking the access.

"It's been recovered, and it's on its way to the waste site," said Juan Eibenschutz, director general of the National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards.

The robot scooped up the dangerous material and deposited it into a protective container before loading it on another truck to be transported into a nuclear waste repository.

Authorities said earlier the radioactive material didn’t pose any risk to the nearby town of  Hueypoxtla but could possibly cause severe radiation sickness to anyone handling the material with bare hands for only a couple of minutes.

The farmer who discovered the material in the field has been hospitalised with radiation exposure symptoms, as well as, reportedly, six individuals suspected to be responsible for the theft.

The cobalt-60, which was used in radiotherapy with outdated medical equipment, was being transported to a waste storage facility when it got lost after the truck carrying the material was stolen at gunpoint on 2 December.

Two days later, authorities found the truck abandoned in a neighbouring Mexico state. The thieves had removed the cobalt-60 from its protective container and left it in the field about half a mile from Hueypoxtla.

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