Hotspots and Incidents » Disasters, catastrophes
Author`s name Ольга Савка

Thieves Steal Radioactive Object in Russia

A very dangerous radioactive cylinder was stolen and then thrown into the Baltic Sea

On March 28, a radiation source, RIT-90, was taken out of the Baltic Sea in the Leningrad region. The source contained 1,500 curies of radioactive strontium-90. The operation was successfully conducted by specialists from the Russian Northwest region's storer of low-radioactive wastes, Rodan.

Unknown ecological vandals plundered a desolate beacon and stole about 500 kilos of stainless steel, aluminum and lead. They then threw a hot (300-400 degrees Celsius) radioactive cylinder into the sea, some 200 meters from the beacon. The cylinder (which weighed five kilograms) melted through about 70 centimeters of ice, reached the seafloor and plunged into the frozen sand.

Radioactive RIT-90 sources contain strontium-90 titanate. This insoluble substance (which has a decomposition period of about 30 years) is used as a source of heat energy. Its capacity is about 40 watts. A thermocouple and a simple electronic device convert its heat into high-power electric and light impulses. The dose of radiation it gives off is about 1,000 roentgen per hour 20 cm from the cylinder. In other words, this source of radiation emits a dose that is for a human being within just a few minutes.

There are about a hundred such beacons in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland. They assist in sea navigation in the Russian part of the Baltic Sea. After military men found that a radioactive cylinder was missing at the beacon, they contacted the specialty company Radon, asking it to find and isolate the dangerous cylinder.

A special company team, as well as a group of marines and police officers, spent several hours searching for the cylinder. They managed to take it out of the water with the help of a spade. The dangerous object was then taken to a highway and placed into a lead container. After that, the cylinder was taken to Radon, where it was thoroughly examined. The radioactive object is to be transported to the Mayak enterprise in the Chelyabinsk region to be buried.

The extremely dangerous situation has been resolved. The authorities do not want to make it public in order not to frighten people. However, this was not the first time that a radioactive object has been stolen. The same beacon was plundered three years ago under the same circumstances, and a lethal cylinder was found on a bus stop in the town of Kingisepp, about 50 kilometers from the site of the crime. It is known that three thieves died as a result of radiation exposure. No one will ever know how many people in total were exposed to radiation while they were waiting for buses. It seems that the authorities did not want to learn their lesson, although they are supposed to guarantee people's security.

What is to be done in order to prevent any further events like this from happening? What if a radioactive cylinder is found on a metro station in St. Petersburg one day? What if a terrorist blows a cylinder up, spreading radioactive substances all over the region? Anyway, such bad news is not likely to be heard of. It seems that only "good" ecological news will be coming from Russia. The Deputy Natural Resources Minister has recently distributed a telegram in which it was said that the information about both natural and artificial negative or disastrous events should be considered confidential. No information, no problems, so to speak.

Oleg Bodrov