Kazakhstan authorities on high alert after radioactive container goes missing
Military involved in efforts to find caesium-137, which may have fallen off a vehicle in Mangistau
AFP in Astana, Kazakhstan
The Guardian, Tuesday 2 September 2014 10.54 EDT
Radiation symbol on metal drum. Kazakhstan authorities said a container with caesium-137 had disappeared in Mangistau. Photograph: David Woodfall/Getty
Authorities in Kazakhstan are on high alert after a container holding the radioactive substance caesium-137 disappeared in the west of the country, police said on Tuesday.
A police spokesman for the Mangistau region said the material – commonly used for military and medical purposes – appeared to have fallen off a vehicle that was transporting it.
"The container with the radioactive isotope caesium-137 has not been found so far," police spokesman Azamat Sarsenbayev said, adding that authorities learned that it had gone missing last Wednesday.
High exposure to caesium-137 – which has a half-life of 30 years – can result in severe burns or even death, and locals have been warned not to open the container if they find it.
The security services, emergency response workers and the military have been involved in efforts to find the container, which weighs some 50-60 kilogrammes (110-130 pounds).
The origin of the missing material was not revealed by authorities in Kazakhstan, which inherited nuclear warheads and a weapons test site when the Soviet Union collapsed.