Mexican troops and federal police kept a nighttime watch on a rural field where thieves abandoned a stolen shipment of highly radioactive cobalt-60, while officials began planning the delicate task of recovering the dangerous material. And while officials say a nearby town is not in danger, the thieves themselves are likely doomed. "The person or people who took this out are in very great risk of dying," says a physicist with the National Commission of Nuclear Safety and Safeguards, adding that the normal survival rate would be between one and three days. His quote in the Washington Post is even more explicit: "They will, without a doubt, die."
That's because the recovered cobalt-60 was no longer in its protective casing; the physicist believes the thieves simply may have been curious as to what was inside and opened it. (The working theory is that they weren't aware of the material, and were just after the 2007 Volkswagen cargo vehicle, which had a moveable platform and crane.) Juan Eibenschutz, director general of the commission, said late yesterday that it could take at least two days to safely get the material into a secure container and transport it to a waste site. There is no word so far of anyone reporting to area hospitals with radiation exposure; the physicist says those who exposed themselves to the pellets could not contaminate others.