Hospitals were on alert for people with radiation exposure, though none had been reported so far. Mardonio Jimenez, a physicist for Mexico’s nuclear safety commission, said those who exposed themselves to the pellets could not contaminate others.
A family that found the empty container that had been used for the radioactive material was under medical observation, he told Milenio television. Hueypoxtla Mayor Javier Santillan later told the TV station that the family suffered no harm.
The cobalt-60 that was missing for nearly two days was left in a rural area about a half-mile from Hueypoxtla, a farm town of about 4,000 people. Officials said it posed no threat to the residents and there was no evacuation. Federal police and military units on the scene threw up an armed cordon about 500 yards around the site.
Alerts had been issued in six Mexican states and the capital when the cargo went missing, and also with customs officials to keep the truck from crossing the border, Eibenschutz said.
The White House said Thursday that it has no reason to believe that the stolen shipment posed a threat to the United States. White House spokesman Jay Carney said that President Barack Obama was briefed about the status of the shipment Wednesday.
But townspeople complained they hadn’t been given any information about what had been found in the nearby field.
“We just want to know,” said Maria del Socorro Rostro Salazar, a lawyer who has lived in the town eight years. “There’s a kindergarten about 50 yards away (from the cordoned area), and they were operating normally yesterday. No one told them the container was nearby.”
The cargo truck hauling the cobalt-60 was stolen from a gas station early Monday in the neighboring state of Hidalgo, about 24 miles from where the material was recovered, Jimenez said.
The material had been removed from obsolete radiation therapy equipment at a hospital in the northern city of Tijuana and was being transported to nuclear waste facility in the state of Mexico, which borders Mexico City.
Eibenschutz said there was nothing to indicate the thieves were after the radioactive isotope or in any way intended for an act of terrorism, The thieves most likely wanted the white 2007 Volkswagen cargo vehicle with a movable platform and crane , he said.