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Desperate search as radioactive material ‘lost’ in Malaysia

Industrial radiography device could cause radiation exposure or be used as a weapon by militants, according to reports

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2018, 6:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2018, 9:17pm

Malaysia is hunting for an industrial device containing radioactive material that is reported to have gone missing from a pickup truck on August 10, police and media said on Monday.

Authorities fear the device, which contains an unknown amount of radioactive iridium, could cause radiation exposure or be used as a weapon by militants, the New Straits Times daily said, citing unnamed sources.

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The 23kg (51-pound) device, used in industrial radiography, went missing on a journey to Shah Alam, on the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur, from the town of Seremban in Negeri Sembilan, about 60km (37 miles) away, the paper added.

“Yes, there is a report and we are investigating,” Mazlan Mansor, police chief of the surrounding state of Selangor, said in a brief text message. He declined to elaborate.

Deputy Home Minister Azis Jamman confirmed the incident had taken place but insisted “everything is under control”.

“There is nothing to be worried about at this moment,” he was quoted as saying in The Star newspaper.

Two employees of the firm that owned the missing equipment were arrested but later released because of insufficient evidence, media said.

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Any loss or theft of radioactive material could put it in the hands of militants who might try to build a crude nuclear device or a so-called “dirty bomb”, the United Nations atomic agency has warned.

Such a device combines nuclear material with conventional explosives to contaminate an area with radiation, in contrast to a nuclear weapon, which uses nuclear fission to trigger a vastly more powerful blast. However, the level of danger depends largely on how powerful the explosives are.

The company that owned the device reportedly used it to detect cracks in metal as part of inspection protocols in the energy, power and transportation sectors.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse