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Missing Radioactive Cylinder Sparks Intensive Search Across Thailand

People 3/16/2023 Anna Lazarus Caplan

The four-by-five inch steel tube containing radioactive Cesium-137 was reported missing last week in the densely populated area about 100 miles east of Bangkok

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Another radioactive capsule has gone missing — this time, in Thailand.

The four-by-five-inch cylinder was discovered missing from a power plant in Prachin Buri, about 100 miles east of Bangkok, on March 10, CNN reported.

Thai authorities fear that the cylinder, which contains the highly radioactive substance Cesium-137, has been missing from the power plant's silo since February, the outlet added.

"We are searching in waste recycling shops in the area," Deputy Secretary General Pennapa Kanchana told CNN. "We are [using] survey equipment to detect for signals. For areas we cannot reach, we have dispatched drones and robots."

Officials are not certain if the capsule, which was used to measure ash, has been misplaced or deliberately taken.

Related:Missing Radioactive Capsule Found Near Remote Australian Highway: 'Needle in a Haystack'

"It is unclear if the item was stolen and sold to a recycling shop or misplaced elsewhere," Si Maha Phot district police chief Mongkol Thopao told CNN. "We have dispatched our teams to recycle shops around the area… we still couldn't find it."

Power plant officials say the steel tube may have fallen from a wall mount at the facility, reported ABC Australia. Radioactive tests, however, show that the item is no longer on the premises, the outlet added.

"We are asking people in the area to help find it," Prachin Buri governor Narong Nakornjinda said, ABC Australia.

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Cesium-137 can cause serious health issues, including skin burns, radiation sickness and an increased risk for cancer if exposed for long periods of time, according to the CDC.

The radioactive isotope also has a half-life of 30 years, so could potentially pose a risk to the approximately half a million people who live in the area surrounding the power plant for years to come, per CNN.

Related:Urgent Search Continues in Australia as Tiny Radioactive Capsule Remains Missing

In early February, a smaller canister containing the same radioactive material was lost in transit, before being found along a remote road in Western Australia.

"We have essentially found the needle in the haystack," Western Australia's Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner (DFES) Darren Klemm said about the 900-mile search for the canister, which was only 6 millimeters (or less than a quarter inch) in diameter and 8 millimeters (less than a third of an inch) tall — about the same size as an Australian 10-cent piece, according to the DFES.

"When you consider the challenge of finding an object smaller than a 10-cent coin along a 1400-kilometer stretch of Great Northern Highway, it is a tremendous result," he said before thanking all the agencies involved in the large-scale operation.

"This was a great example of working together to achieve an outstanding result," Klemm added.

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