Iraq officials search for stolen radioactive material
Authorities in Iraq are trying to find “highly dangerous” radioactive material stolen last year, officials say, amid fears that it could end up in the hands of Daesh Takfiri terrorists.
Based on an Iraqi Environment Ministry document and several officials, the material, which was stored in a protective case as large as a laptop computer, disappeared in November 2015 from a storage facility near the southern city of Basra owned by US oil field services company Weatherford, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
The document described “the theft of a highly dangerous radioactive source of Ir-192 with highly radioactive activity.”
According to an unnamed Environment Ministry official, the device contained up to 10 grams of Ir-192 “capsules,” a radioactive isotope of iridium.
As a Category 2 radioactive source, the stuff could cause lasting injury to a person close to it for minutes or hours if it is not handled properly, and also be fatal to someone exposed to it for a period of hours to days.
“We are afraid the radioactive element will fall into the hands of Daesh,” said a senior security official, adding, “They could simply attach it to explosives to make a dirty bomb.”
A dirty bomb is made of a mixture of nuclear material and conventional explosives to contaminate an area with radiation.
Besides the risk of a dirty bomb, the material is said to be able to cause harm simply by being left exposed in a public place for several days.
A spokesman for Basra operations command, meanwhile, said army, police and intelligence forces are working “day and night” to find the material.
So far, there has been no evidence that the radioactive material has fallen into the hands of Daesh terrorists, who seized swathes of the Iraqi territory in June 2014.
The militant group has reportedly used chemical weapons on several occasions over the past few years.