Security tighter after Caesium-137 theft

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 February, 2008, 12:00am

The United Christian Hospital in Kwun Tong will tighten security after a small quantity of a radioactive substance was found missing from a locked room on Friday morning.

The discovery was made during a regular check, a hospital staffer said. The matter was then reported to police and the Department of Health.

Police classified the matter as theft yesterday.

The substance, Caesium-137 in jelly form, was stored in a sealed plastic bottle that was in a lead container in the hospital's nuclear medical unit, said James Chan Chi-sang, chief of service in the department of radiology and organ imaging.

Dr Chan said staff had to first get access to a room before entering another room where the substance was stored.

Both doors were equipped with electronic locks and only two radiographers had the right of access, he said.

There was no sign of burglary, he said, but maintenance work had been going on recently in the room next door.

The hospital would step up its security measures, including changing the digital locks, increasing patrols and reviewing the closed-circuit TV monitoring system.

Police would view hospital video tapes recorded in the past seven days.

According to the United States' Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Caesium-137 generates high-energy gamma radiation, which can increase the risk of cancer.

However, Dr Chan said that if the substance was not removed from its lead container, no radioactivity would be released.

Someone exposed to the substance within a distance of 1 metre continuously for 80 hours could receive a level of exposure similar to that delivered during an X-ray.

The hospital urged anyone who knew the whereabouts of the Caesium-137 to inform police.