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Malaysian authorities searching for missing radioactive device

THE Malaysian authorities are frantically looking for a 23kg radioactive device that has gone missing since Aug 10, the New Straits Times (NST) reported.

The Radioactive Dispersal Device (RDD) contains the radioactive isotope Iridium-192, which emits beta and gamma radiation as it decays during its estimated half life of 73 days.

The authorities are concerned that it might fall into the hands of terrorists or militants, or those who treat it as metal to be dismantled and sold for a quick buck.

According to the NST, RDD has a market value of RM75,000 (S$25,000).

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Iridium-192 is one of the most-stolen commercial radioactive isotopes that can be used in a dirty bomb a non-nuclear device using conventional explosives to spread radioactive material over a wide area, according to published reports.

The compound is safe as long as it is inside its lead-shielded casing.

The NST, which was alerted to the search for the radioactive device, has learnt that it belongs to a company offering test, calibration and inspection services to the oil and gas industry, as well as power plants, manufacturing, automative and transportation sectors, among others.

According to sources, two technicians of the company, who are in their mid 30s, had loaded the device into the back of the company's pick-up truck for a task in Seremban.

They completed the task and left Seremban for their office in Shah Alam at 2am.

When they arrived an hour later, they discovered the device missing from their Nissan Navara.

The duo told investigators that the tailgate of their vehicle was already lowered when they reached their office.

They had said the device could have fallen out during their drive back to their office.

The two retraced their journey in an attempt to recover the device.

They told investigators that they did not stop during the journey to their office.

One of them alerted the the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) and the highway operator, Plus Malaysia Bhd, which helped scour the stretch between the Senawang and Seafield toll plazas.

The NST learnt that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) did not find any sign that the tailgate had been pried open.

Investigators found that the tailgate's locking mechanism was in good condition, saying that it was not possible for it to "unlock" by itself, NST reported.

The Shah Alam district police headquarters' CID did not believe the duo's story and had them remanded.

However, they were released on Friday after no criminal elements were traced to them, including their possible involvment in terrorism or militancy.

The NST learnt that the major concern of AELB was that the missing device contained radioactive material that could compromise security and safety.

It fears that the person who finds the device and has no knowledge of its content, may dismantle it to be sold as scrap metal, thus causing mass exposure to radioactive materials.

A source in AELB told the NST that there were no leads on the missing item as of Sunday.

"We appeal to those in possession of it to contact the police or AELB. Do not open it.

"It cannot fall into the wrong hands as the consequences can be deadly," the source said.

THE STRAITS TIMES