BANGKOK: Radioactive substances were detected on Sunday (Mar 19) at a smelter in Kabin Buri district of Prachin Buri province in eastern Thailand after a metal cylinder containing similar contents was reported missing earlier this month.
The cylinder – measuring 5 inches in diameter and 8 inches in length – contains radioactive substances called Caesium-137. The 25-kg container was earlier found missing from a local power plant in Prachin Buri during routine checks. It has yet to be found.
Exposure to large amounts of Caesium-137 can harm blood and nervous systems, cause seizures and even lead to death, according to the Thai Public Health Ministry.
“Yesterday morning, Caesium-137 was detected in big bags at a smelting factory in Kabin Buri district of Prachin Buri,” said Prachin Buri governor Ronnarong Nakornjinda in a press conference on Monday.
“The authorities confirmed that Caesium-137 cannot be created on its own by nature but has to be created by humans.”
The bags where the substances were found contain residue from smelting, according to Mr Ronnarong.
“As soon as this was confirmed in the evening, we cordoned off the area immediately and prohibited people from entering it. The authorities also checked nearby areas for the substances,” the governor said.
“When the radioactive detection equipment was placed close to the bags, the reading showed there were Caesium-137 substances there. But at about 10m away, the reading showed no such substances,” he added.
There are about 70 employees at the smelting plant and they have been asked to stop working temporarily for safety. According to Mr Ronnarong, a medical team and officials from the Office of Atoms for Peace in Thailand will also conduct health checks for the employees.
The missing cylinder belongs to the National Power Plant 5 A company. Permsuk Sutchaphiwat, secretary general of the Office of Atoms for Peace, said in the press conference on Monday that the incident was not reported to the authorities as soon as the company became aware of the missing cylinder.
“Right now, we still don’t know how it went missing,” he said.
The smelting plant has been sealed off and radioactive detection equipment has been used to screen the area, Mr Permsuk added.
The Office of Atoms for Peace is under the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation. It regulates the safe utilisation of radiation and nuclear materials in Thailand according to international standards and obligations.
Authorities have not been able to confirm whether the radioactive substances detected at the smelter in Kabin Buri district came from the missing cylinder.
“Police are seriously working to find out whether that’s the case. But we know for sure that Caesium-137 has been found in Kabin Buri district of Prachin Buri, and that such substances aren’t easily found in such an amount,” Mr Permsuk said.
According to the Disease Control Department of the Public Health Ministry, the public should avoid exposure to radioactive substances or any suspicious metal container.
People who reside in the area should register themselves with the authorities and wash their hands every time before consuming food or drinks.
If exposed to the substances, people are advised to reduce the contamination by cleaning their eyes with clean running water, and wash their hands as well as body and hair. They are also advised to change their clothes immediately.
Any belongings believed to be contaminated with radioactive substances should be sent for inspection by the authorities.