Cobalt 60 Stolen in Mexico: What You Need to Know

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After a two-day hunt, a stolen truck containing the lethal radioactive material cobalt 60 was found in the rural Mexican town of Hueypoxtla. Mexican nuclear safety authorities suspect the carjackers likely did not know they were absconding with the deadly material, but will probably pay for it with their lives. The cobalt 60 had been removed from its casing, suggesting that the perpetrators were exposed to high doses of radiation.

Is the public at risk of being exposed?

Fortunately, the area where the material was found isn’t densely populated, and Juan Eibenschultz, director general of the National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards, told the Associated Press that the cobalt 60 did not pose a threat to nearby residents in the agricultural town and that no evacuation was necessary.

What happens when you are exposed to cobalt 60?

Externally, exposure to the gamma radiation emitted by cobalt 60 can cause burns and radiation sickness. Most of the material that is absorbed by the body is eliminated in the feces, but what remains can embed in tissues such as the liver, kidneys and bones, where it can cause cancer. Because the perpetrators were probably not protected when the opened the container, they likely received high doses of radiation that would be fatal within days.

Where did the cobalt 60 come from?

The canister was being transported from a hospital in Tijuana to a storage facility. In the medical field, the radioactive substance is use to treat inoperable tumors such as brain lesions that are difficult to access via surgery.

It has industrial applications as well. Increasingly, cobalt 60 is used to irradiate spices to remove pathogens such as bacteria; no traces of radioactive material remains after the sterilization. It is also used in leveling devices and gauges.


is eating a pellet like goin in the microwave????  thts cool


Yeah.... If you think that's how microwaves work....


The article incorrectly talks about "material absorbed by the body" as if the thieves may have ingested/inhaled Co-60. A Co-60 therapy source is a solid metal piece. Even a person who opened the safe and handled the source unprotected would not ingest any Co-60. The lethal radiation exposure would be a pure external gamma exposure, without any internal radioactivity.

Depending on the total body dose, exposed individuals could die in 30-60 days from hematologic syndrome (drop in blood counts), in 6-10 days from gastrointestinal syndrome (massive gut infection), or in 1-2 days from cerebrovascular syndrome (seizures and loss of blood pressure). Any fatal dose will cause rapid onset (immediate to a few hours) nausea and vomiting, and skin toxicity after a number of days. Carcinogenesis is a concern only if they survive long enough (several years) to develop secondary malignancies.

Radiation to bystanders depends on time and distance. If a therapy source gives approximately 1 Gy/min at 1 meter, that's 1440 Gy in 24 hours. Inverse square law would give 14.4 Gy (a fatal dose) to 10 meters, 1 Gy (a sickening dose) to 38 meters, 5 mGy (a CT scan) to 537 meters, and 0.1 mGy (a chest X-ray) to 3.8 kilometers or 2.4 miles. Earth is very good shielding, so even a small hill in between the Co-60 source and the town would keep it safe.


"that the cobalt 60 did not pose a threat to nearby residents in the agricultural town and that no evacuation was necessary."

And I would trust the Mexican authorities to tell the truth... Good luck with that!