Radioactive Caesium-137 found at Thai steel-melting plant during search for missing cylinder

Officials detecting readings of radioactivity at Prachinburi’s largest steel foundry, in the Kabin Buri district, Thailand. PHOTO: THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

BANGKOK – Dangerous radioactive material that went missing from a Thai power plant in Prachinburi has resurfaced at a steel foundry in the eastern province, said provincial Governor Ronnarong Nakornjinda on Sunday.

Officials have been checking steel factories in the province, 150km east of capital Bangkok, since a cylinder of Caesium-137 weighing 25kg was discovered missing from a coal-fired power plant in Sri Maha Pho district on March 10.

On Sunday, they detected readings of radioactivity at the province’s largest steel foundry, in the Kabin Buri district. The readings came from scrap metal that had been compressed into cubes ready to be smelted on Sunday evening.

Officials ordered the foundry to halt operations to prevent the radioactive metal from being crushed and scattered into several cubes.

All employees were ordered to leave the foundry, where a perimeter has been set up to bar access to outsiders.

An initial investigation of smelted material at the foundry found traces of Caesium-137.

Mr Ronnarong said earlier that the cylinder was suspected of having been stolen for sale to a junk shop.

The radioactive cylinder may have been melted and smelted into “red dust”, Dr Julapong Taweesri, the director general of Thailand’s Department of Industrial Works, said in an interview with a local television channel.

Officials detected Caesium through dust particles at the plant, though they did not detect radioactivity in any steel material. They are still trying to confirm if dust containing radiation was distributed to other recycling plants, Dr Taweesri said.

Caesium-137 has a half-life of about 30 years and remains in the environment for 300 years, according to Mr Ronnarong. He warned that touching the radioactive material could harm the skin, liver and bone marrow.

Provincial public health and labour welfare officials last week set up a command centre to search for the cylinder and handle any fallout from the incident.

The province also announced a 50,000 baht (S$1,970) reward for those who provide information leading to its recovery. THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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