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Radioactive waste that could be used to make dirty bomb stolen from hospital truck

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  • Thieves drive off with van delivering toxic substance to waste facility
  • Cobalt-60 from old hospital equipment can be used in weapons

By Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED: 08:44 EST, 4 December 2013 | UPDATED: 08:53 EST, 4 December 2013

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A truck carrying radioactive material for medical treatment, which could be used in a dirty bomb, has been stolen in Mexico, the UN nuclear watchdog said.

Details of how much cobalt-60 - a radioactive source - was on the truck when it was stolen on Monday has not been released by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The material could potentially be used to make a dirty bomb, where traditional explosives are used to spread radiation.

Stolen: A container of cobalt-60, similar to this one, has gone missing in Mexico

Stolen: A container of cobalt-60, similar to this one, has gone missing in Mexico

Mexican authorities told the IAEA that the truck, which had been delivering the toxic substance from a Tijuana hospital to a radioactive storage facility, was taken in Tepojaco, near Mexico City.

The white van delivering it was taken from a gas station as the driver stopped to refuel.

'At the time the truck was stolen, the [radioactive] source was properly shielded. However, the source could be extremely dangerous to a person if removed from the shielding, or if it was damaged,' the IAEA statement said.

The agency has offered to help Mexican authorities, who it said were searching for the material and had alerted the public.

More than 100 incidents of thefts and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radioactive material are reported to the IAEA annually, the UN agency said earlier this year.

Because radioactive material is regarded as less hard to find and the device easier to manufacture, experts say a so-called 'dirty bomb' is a more likely threat than a nuclear bomb in any attack by militants.

Toxic: The decommissioned medical equipment, like the box above, is safe as long as no one tampers with it

Toxic: The decommissioned medical equipment, like the box above, is safe as long as no one tampers with it

Risk: Radioactive material used in hospitals, such as cobalt-60, could be turned into a dirty bomb

Risk: Radioactive material used in hospitals, such as cobalt-60, could be turned into a dirty bomb

Experts describe the threat of a crude fissile nuclear bomb, which is technically difficult to manufacture and requires hard-to-obtain bomb-grade uranium or plutonium, as a 'low probability, high consequence act' - unlikely but with the potential to cause large-scale harm to life and property.

But a dirty bomb is seen as a 'high probability, low consequence act' with more potential to terrorize than cause large loss of life.

At a nuclear security summit last year, IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano specifically singled out cobalt-60 among radioactive sources that could be used for such bombs.

'These materials, such as cobalt-60, could be used along with conventional explosives to make so-called dirty bombs. A dirty bomb detonated in a major city could cause mass panic, as well as serious economic and environmental consequences,' Mr Amano said, according to a copy of his speech.

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