More radioactive material missing

28 March 2007: Sometimes a dot is simply a dot, and a lot of dots might just be random specks without meaning or consequence. Most of the time, however, it seems that too few people or agencies are keeping track of the dots, random or not. Researchers and analysts of the Northeast Intelligence Network have been keeping track of such dots as they relate to theft of nuclear material in North America. Last month, we reported on the theft of two identical specialized devices containing nuclear material - portable radioactive nucleodensimeters, to be precise, from Montreal, Canada. The thefts, by the way, were separated by five years and at least as many miles.

Those devices are used at construction sites and contain radioactive material used to take soil samples and measure ground water. The radioactive substance inside, however, can be potentially dangerous if improperly exposed – or used for nefarious purposes.

On Monday, U.S. federal regulators said that a piece of radioactive material from a stolen gauge recovered in Philadelphia last week is still missing. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the instrument, used to measure soil density at construction sites, was stolen from a parked truck at a construction site last week and found at a salvage yard in Philadelphia’s Nicetown section last Thursday - minus the radioactive material that had been bolted to the gauge. According to the NRC, “thefts of such gauges often occur when they are mistaken for toolboxes,” adding that “[T]hieves may sell the devices for scrap metal, unaware that their content is radioactive.”

Where’s the radioactive material? A special Energy Department team with radiation monitoring equipment has been called in to aid with the search, the NRC said in a statement.