MALAYSIAN authorities are scrambling to find a radioactive device missing since Aug 10, fearing it would fall into the hands of terrorists or militants.
The 23kg radiography equipment known as the Radioactive Dispersal Device (RDD) contains the radioactive isotope Iridium- 192, which emits beta and gamma radiation as it decays. According to local daily New Straits Times, the compound could be used to make a “dirty bomb”, which, if detonated would spread radioactive material over a wide area.
Apart from the threat of terrorists, the police and the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) also fear members of the public could be in danger if the US$18,500 device is dismantled and sold as scrap metal.
The daily’s report said the radioactive device belonged to a company that provides inspection, calibration, and test services to the oil and gas industry and power plants, among others.
Sources familiar with the matter told the paper that the device was being transported by two company technicians back to the company’s head office in Shah Alam, near Kuala Lumpur, when it went missing. The technicians had earlier completed a task with the device in Seremban, roughly an hour’s drive away.
The two technicians reportedly told investigators that they found the device missing when they arrived at their office. They also discovered the tailgate of their pickup truck lowered when they reached Shah Alam, suggesting it could have fallen out of the vehicle during the trip.
Upon realising that the device was missing, the two drove back down to Seremban to retrace their journey but failed to retrieve the equipment.
The radioactive material is safe as long as it remains in the metal enclosure but the AELB is still worried it could compromise national security and public safety.
The source said mass exposure to members of the public could happen if a person were to pry open the metal enclosure.
“We appeal to those in possession of it to contact the police or AELB. Do not open it,” the source was quoted as saying.
“It cannot fall into the wrong hands as the consequences can be deadly.”
Police told the NST that it did not find any sign of tampering with the vehicle’s tailgate. The locking mechanism, they said, was in good condition and could not be unlocked without intervention.
Owing to this, the two technicians were detained for several days but released after investigators failed to link them to any criminal activities or involvement in terrorism.
Metallurgy expert Dr Abd Nassir Ibrahim said the specialised equipment sees heavy use in a host of engineering projects such as power plant construction and maintenance, as well as chemical and automobile factories.
He said the equipment helps to detect cracks and defects in engineering components.
“As an example, a weld in a boiler may contain cracks that are hidden and cannot be seen by human eyes.
“The presence of such defects if not detected may result in an explosion when the boiler is put into operation.
“Radiography is proven to be a method that has the capability to detect such a crack.”