Malaysia: Stolen radioactive material Iridium 192 sold retail at scrap metal shop

Category-2 radioactive substance can kill people in close proximity within hours if leaked.


Malaysian police have arrested several people over the theft of radioactive material Iridium-192 from an oilfield service company at Klang, Selangor. The stolen radioactive materials were also seized from a scrap metal company and an apartment.

According to US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Iridium-192 is one of the main lost or stolen commercial radioactive isotopes that can potentially be used in making a dirty bomb.

The arrest of the men followed the discovery of several bomb-shaped objects by the owner of a scrap metal shop in Kampung Jawa, Klang, last Thursday, police source told Beranama. The source further told the state news agency that initial investigations revealed the radioactive material sold at the shop was reportedly stolen from an oil exploration company in Klang earlier last week.

"Subsequently, police identified the individual who sold the material and conducted a raid on a unit in the apartment at Section 36 at 8.30pm on Sunday. Several individuals were arrested", he added. The raiding party also recovered another radioactive material, which was still kept in its container, in a store near the apartment.

Another source informed the New Strait Times that the police and nuclear experts from the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) carried out a joint-operation to trace the radioactive material which is believed to be Iridium 192. It is learnt that the authorities took help of a special detector brought in by the AELB to pinpoint the material's whereabouts.

Alzafny Ahmad, district police chief of Klang Selatan, confirmed the incident when contacted by the New Strait Times but declined to disclose the number of people arrested and their identities, as there might be more arrests to follow. When asked by the New Strait Times to confirm the type of radioactive materials involved, he only said that the items were very hazardous if leakage were to occur. He declined to reveal anything further, saying that the investigation is ongoing adding that he and officials from the AELB will hold a press conference on Monday (today) at the district police headquarters.

The radioactive material which is believed to be Iridium 192 is defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency as a category-2 radioactive substance which is very dangerous to the humans. It can permanently injure a person who handles the radioactive material for minutes to hours, and it can kill people in close proximity within hours to days, according to the agency.

The Malaysian oilfield service was using iridium-192 in all likelihood to image the inside of its pipelines, which are typically made of dense materials that X-rays can't adequately penetrate. According to the popular science website Livescience the iridium source is usually placed inside the pipelines, and a detector outside the pipe tracks the amount of gamma radiation, which reveals if the walls of the pipeline are thicker or thinner, or if there is a crack. Iridium-192 is also often used in radiation therapy to kill cancer cells.

This article was first published on February 13, 2017