Stolen radioactive camera recovered along a Tulsa highway

Tuesday, November 1st 2005, 6:15 pm
By: News On 6

Tulsa Police have recovered an industrial camera that was reported stolen Monday, which contains a highly-hazardous, radioactive material.

Iridium-192 sparks concern because it's mentioned as a potential source for a so-called dirty bomb, the sort of bomb that its feared terrorists could use to contaminate an area.

News on 6 reporter Steve Berg says the camera was found in the underbrush off I-44 not far from IRIS-NDT, the business it was taken from.

Tulsa Police Sgt Kim Presley: "This morning about 7 o'clock we had a witness call and actually say they saw this thing.”

Cameras like these are used for industrial radiography, inspecting metal structures for welding flaws and the like. Dan Potter, who works for a different company, has been in the business for 20 years and says thefts are rare. "We're required to keep them under constant surveillance, under constant security, locked-up, visually and mechanically secure.”

The bad news is the camera had Iridium-192, which emits highly-ionizing gamma radiation, the most damaging kind to human tissue. The good news is the camera's casing was secure and all the Iridium was accounted for.

Even in a worst-case scenario, Potter says the material wouldn't make for a very good dirty bomb, because it wouldn't disperse very well and could quickly be detected. "It is particulate so some of it may go through the air and travel a certain distance, but they would be able to clean it up."

Tulsa Police say there was no sign of a break-in at the plant and company officials told the News on 6, they're considering whether it was a disgruntled employee responsible. Tulsa Police say they have no suspects, but they do have clues.

Tulsa Police Sgt Kim Presley: "They did take it, collect prints off it, and those prints will be processed and put through the system, so they did get some prints off it."

The federal government says there has only been one, un-recovered theft of Iridium-192 in the past 5 years in the US, but they say the material is not as closely regulated in other parts of the world.