MEXICO CITY — A Mexican government official says six people being tested for possible radiation exposure are suspects in the theft of truck carrying cobalt-60.
The official says the six were arrested Thursday and taken to the general hospital in Pachuca for observation and testing for radiation exposure.
The official spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Hidalgo state Health Minister Pedro Luis Noble said none are in grave condition and may be released soon.
The theft triggered alerts in six Mexican states and Mexico City, as well as international notifications to the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. It raised concerns that the material could have been stolen to make a dirty bomb, a conventional explosive that disseminates radioactive material. But Mexican officials said that the thieves seemed to have targeted the cargo truck with moveable platform and crane, and likely didn’t know about the dangerous cargo.
The atomic energy agency said the cobalt has an activity of 3,000 curries, or Category 1, meaning ‘‘it would probably be fatal to be close to this amount of unshielded radioactive material for a period in the range of a few minutes to an hour.’’
The truck was found abandoned Wednesday about 40 kilometers (24 miles) from where it was stolen, and the container for the radioactive material was found opened. The cobalt-60 pellets were left about a kilometer (half mile) from the truck in an empty rural field, where authorities said they were a risk only to anyone who had handled them and not to anyone in Hueypoxtla, the closest town of about 4,000 people. There was no evacuation.
The material was from obsolete radiation therapy equipment at a hospital in the northern city of Tijuana and was being transported to nuclear waste facility in the state of Mexico, which borders Mexico City.
Associated Press writer Adriana Gomez Licon reported from Mexico City.