Thai officials search second hand shops and junk yards for missing radioactive cylinder

A radioactive cylinder has gone missing from a steam power plant in Thailand's eastern province of Prachinburi. Credit: AP

Thai authorities have ramped up their search for a radioactive metal cylinder that has gone missing from a power plant.

Officials have warned that the 30 centimetre-long cylinder poses a danger to public health and are keen to recover it as quickly as possible.

Thought to contain the radioactive material Caesium-137, it was initially discovered missing last Friday from a piece of machinery at a steam power plant in Prachinburi province.

Searches have now been extended to junk shops, scrap metal yards and second hand stores in the province and neighbouring Chachoengsao province, the government said.

Health experts have warned that prolonged exposure or direct contact with the radioactive material can cause rashes, hair loss, canker sores, fatigue and vomiting.

They added that short-term contact with Caesium-137 may not show immediate symptoms but could lead to a higher risk of cancer.

Bosses at the National Power Supply Public are unsure if it has gone missing by accident but have offered a cash reward of 50,000 baht (£1,200) to anyone who can help track it down.

The company said it may have disappeared several weeks ago.

Thongchai Keeratihuttayakorn, director-general of the Department of Medical Services, said Caesium-137 has similar physical characteristics to salt and can disperse easily if its container opened.

He said it is used in devices such as ones measuring humidity or the velocity of liquids.

The cylinder was connected to a 17 meter-tall (56 ft) silo and used for measuring ash in the silo, said Permsuk Sutchaphiwat, secretary general of Thailand’s Office of Atoms for Peace agency.

In 2000, illegally disposed canisters containing the radioactive substance Cobalt-60 were found in a junkyard in Samut Prakarn, a suburb of Bangkok.

At least five people were hospitalised after being exposed to radiation when the canisters were opened by the scrapyard workers, unaware of the hazard.

The cylinders were believed to have come from a medical X-ray machine.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.