BANGKOK (AP) — Thai officials said Monday they traced to a recycling smelter a metal cylinder with radioactive contents that was discovered earlier this month missing from a power plant, but advised there appeared to be no danger. for public health.
The 30-centimetre-long (12-inch) cylinder containing the radioactive material Cesium-137 was reported as missing on March 10 from machinery at a steam-powered power plant in Prachinburi province, 165 kilometers (102 miles) east of Bangkok.
Prachinburi governor Narong Nakhonchinda said traces of caesium-137 were detected on Sunday in bags of furnace dust which was a by-product of the smelting process at the smelter, which is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the power plant. He said the furnace used for the process was a closed system, so radioactive particles couldn’t escape from it.
Work at the plant was halted and employees and nearby residents underwent health checks.
Health officials said the medical records for the past month of all hospitals in the province would be checked to see if any patients showed symptoms possibly caused by radiation exposure. Prolonged direct contact with radioactive material can cause skin rashes, hair loss, canker sores, fatigue and vomiting. Short-term contact with cesium-137 may not show immediate symptoms but could lead to a higher risk of cancer.
Permsuk Sutchaphiwat, secretary general of the Office of Atoms for Peace, Thailand’s nuclear research agency, said the metal extracted during processing would not become radioactive because the cesium-137 would separate from the steel due to the high temperatures used in the process. However, traces of it can still be found in the furnace.
The missing 25-kilogram (55 lb) cylinder was connected to a 17-metre (56 ft) high silo at the power station and used to measure the ash content. Police say they suspect the tank was stolen to be sold for scrap.
In 2000, illegally disposed of containers containing the radioactive substance Cobalt-60 were found in a landfill in Samut Prakarn, a suburb of Bangkok. At least five people have been hospitalized after being exposed to radiation when containers were opened by landfill workers, unaware of the danger. The cylinders were believed to have come from a medical X-ray machine.