Radioactive nugget found at waste plant

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 March, 2009, 12:00am

A highly dangerous radioactive nugget of Caesium-137, a product of nuclear bombs and reactors, has been recovered after a cement plant dumped it as metallic rubbish in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, state media said yesterday.

Without specifying when, Xinhua reported that the nugget had been found among metallic residue on the grounds of a recycling company in Fuping county, east of Tongchuan, where it was reported lost.

The report added that there had been no danger to either the environment or people when it was transported, as the lead pieces around the caesium were still intact when it was found.

The blunder went unnoticed until Monday, when a staff member of the Shaanxi Qinling Cement Company in Tongchuan noticed during a routine safety check at a demolished cement production line that the watermelon-sized ball of lead containing the Caesium-137 had been lost, Xinhua reported.

The news had shocked local authorities, who immediately mobilised dozens of officials from different departments to search for the nugget along transport links, and at collecting and selling points for recyclable material, the report added.

Caesium-137 can cause violent explosions when mixed with water and can contaminate people within 10 metres if no protective measures have been implemented. It can remain lethal for 30 years.

In a bid to prevent the proliferation of radioactive materials, the Shaanxi department responsible for the monitoring and management of radioactive sources had been cleansing the metallic remains, the report said.

An official with the Tongchuan city government tried to calm the concerns of the public.

'The Caesium-137 was thoroughly wrapped in lead in a specially designed container before it was discovered to be lost,' he said.

'It posed basically no danger to human beings. Please don't worry about this.'