Thu, 26 Oct 2000

Radioactive material containers missing

JAKARTA (JP): Seventeen containers of harmful radioactive elements have been found missing from the warehouse of state- owned steel company PT Krakatau Steel at Cilegon, West Java, a police officer said on Wednesday.

National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Saleh Saaf called on the public to immediately report any information they have to nearest police station to help recover the missing containers containing Americium-241 and Cobalt-60.

"This is a serious matter. We've been moving swiftly to deal with it," Saleh told The Jakarta Post.

The containers, he said, are in the shape of a tube 20 centimeters long and weighing 40 kilograms each.

Four other similar tubes, with its contents intact, was found on Tuesday not far from the warehouse, he said.

The police, Saleh explained, still do not know if the missing containers were taken out of the warehouse at once or at different times.

Both local police and executives of the steel producing firm do not know exactly when the tubes went missing. The company's staff, while making a routine check on Friday, noticed the loss, the spokesman said.

Krakatau Steel and police believe the containers had been stolen from the warehouse, which looks like a guard post and marked with yellow triangles symbolizing the presence of dangerous items, Saleh said.

Judging from the undamaged door and the padlock of the warehouse, the theft might have been an inside job, he added.

The local police have so far questioned several witnesses, including the company's security officials and persons in charge of the hazardous substances.

Separately, head of Krakatau Steel's health safety and environment Sugeng Sumbarjo said his men, using a radioactive detector, had not found any traces of radiation leak in and around the warehouse.

According to Sugeng, the radiation from the two elements could burn human skin and damage blood corpuscles in the body. A direct contact with the hazardous substance could lead to cancer, tumor or leukemia.

"The radiation, which has a strong and long-lasting effect on the human body, could spread to the other parts of the body and only amputation could help stop its spread," he was quoted by Antara as saying.

Cobalt-60 is mostly used by the company to cut steel under high temperature.

Officer Saleh also suspected that the radioactive elements had been stolen by companies which also use the substances in their production.

"I think the thieves were aiming at the lead containers instead of its contents because the containers are very expensive," said Saleh,

He said the thieves might not realize the dangers of the radioactive substances and might just discard them, endangering other people. (07)