TECHINT Technical evaluation and developments related to CBRN - General

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Bogeyman 

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Many warehouses around the world would empty of crops such as wheat after a small nuclear war.


Nuclear war between two nations could spark global famine​


Even a small conflict in which two nations unleash nuclear weapons on each other could lead to worldwide famine, new research suggests. Soot from burning cities would encircle the planet and cool it by reflecting sunlight back into space. This in turn would cause global crop failures that — in a worst-case scenario — could put 5 billion people on the brink of death.

“A large percent of the people will be starving,” says Lili Xia, a climate scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, who led the work. “It’s really bad.”

The research, published on 15 August in Nature Food1, is the latest in a decades-long thought experiment about the global consequences of nuclear war. It seems especially relevant today as Russia’s war against Ukraine has disrupted global food supplies, underscoring the far-reaching impacts of a regional conflict.

Scenarios big and small​

Nuclear war comes with a range of lethal impacts, from killing people directly in atomic blasts to the lingering effects of radiation and other environmental pollution. Xia and her colleagues wanted to look at the consequences farther afield from the scene of war, to explore how people all around the planet could also suffer.

They modelled how climate would change in various parts of the world following a nuclear war, and how crops and fisheries would respond to those changes. The scientists analysed six war scenarios, each of which would put different amounts of soot into the atmosphere, and drop surface temperatures from anywhere between 1 and 16 °C. The effects could linger for a decade or more.

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan, perhaps triggered over the disputed Kashmir region, could loft between 5 million and 47 million tonnes of soot into the atmosphere, depending on how many warheads were deployed and cities destroyed. A full-out nuclear war between the United States and Russia could produce 150 million tonnes of soot. The globe-encircling pall would persist for years until the skies eventually cleared.

Using data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, Xia’s team calculated how declining crop yields and fishery catches after a nuclear war would affect the number of calories available for people to eat. The scientists studied several options, such as whether people continued to raise livestock or whether they routed some or all crops meant for livestock to humans instead. The study assumed there would be some repurposing of biofuel crops for human consumption, and people would cut back on or eliminate food waste. It also assumed that international trade would stop as countries chose to feed people within their own borders rather than exporting food.

Xia notes that the study relies on many assumptions and simplifications about how the complex global food system would respond to a nuclear war. But the numbers are stark. For even the smallest war scenario, of an India–Pakistan conflict that results in 5 million tonnes of soot, calorie production across the planet could drop by 7% in the first five years after the war. In a 47-million-tonnes-of-soot scenario, global average calories drop by up to 50%. In the worst case of a United States–Russia war, calorie production drops by 90% three to four years after the war.

‘Let’s move to Australia’​

The nations most affected would be those at mid to high latitudes, which already have a short season for growing crops and which would cool more dramatically after a nuclear war than tropical regions would. The United Kingdom, for instance, would see sharper drops in food available than a country such as India that is located at lower latitudes. But France, which is a major exporter of food, would fare relatively well — at least in the lower-emission scenarios — because if trade were halted, it would have more food available for its own people.

Another less-affected nation is Australia. Isolated from trade in the wake of a nuclear war, Australia would rely mainly on wheat for food. And wheat would grow relatively well in the cooler climate induced by atmospheric soot. On the team’s map showing large portions of the world coloured red, for starvation, Australia gleams an untouched green, even in the severe war scenarios. “The first time I showed my son the map, the first reaction he had is ‘let’s move to Australia,’” Xia says.

The study is a useful step towards understanding the global food impacts of a regional nuclear war, says Deepak Ray, a food-security researcher at the University of Minnesota in Saint Paul. But more work is needed to accurately simulate the complex mix of how crops are produced around the world, he says. For instance, the research took into consideration national crop production numbers, but reality is much more nuanced, with different crops being grown in different regions of a country for different purposes.

Nuclear war might seem less of a threat than it did during the cold war, but there are still nine countries with more than 12,000 nuclear warheads among them. Understanding the potential consequences of nuclear war in detail could help nations better assess the risks.

“It is rare to happen — but if it happens, it affects everyone,” Ray says. “These are dangerous things.”
 

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FACT SHEET: President Biden Signs National Security Memorandum to Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism and Advance Nuclear and Radioactive Material Security​


Today, President Biden signed National Security Memorandum (NSM) 19 to Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Terrorism and Advance Nuclear and Radioactive Material Security worldwide. This comprehensive new strategy advances several of President Biden’s most enduring national security priorities: protecting our nation and the international community from the existential threats posed by WMD terrorism and preventing non-state actors from using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons.

Although significant progress has been made in the reduction and elimination of WMDs, and weapons usable materials around the world, we must remain vigilant and drive further progress to mitigate the range of challenges posed by WMD terrorism at home and abroad, including those posed by new and emerging technologies. Reducing, eliminating, and securing radioactive and nuclear materials are the most effective means to prevent their acquisition and use, and through the implementation of policies and priorities detailed in this NSM, the United States will advance efforts to prevent WMD terrorism.

This NSM integrates, in a systematic way, U.S. policies to counter the use of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons by non-state actors, sets out unified priorities for Departments and Agencies across the Federal government, and affirms the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to work with state, local, tribal, international, and private sector partners on preventing, mitigating, and responding to WMD terrorism threats. It establishes the first comprehensive policy for securing radioactive materials, which present continuing domestic and global risk, along with new domestic guidelines for the management and security of nuclear material by prioritizing efforts to protect and permanently dispose of weapons-usable materials of greatest concern and transition from high-activity radioactive sources to alternative technologies when technically and economically feasible.

In addition to addressing risks posed by existing weapons useable materials, the policies in this NSM anticipate and proactively address the emerging nature of threats and implications of on‑and-over-the-horizon technologies that could be used to develop, acquire, or employ WMD. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to managing the benefits of emerging technology for future peaceful applications with the proliferation risks of these technologies, and has established forward-looking U.S. policies that support enduring clean energy and nuclear material security goals while aggressively seeking to reduce the future production and accumulation of weapons usable materials worldwide.

This policy outlines goals in three ambitious lines of effort:

Counter WMD Terrorism: Combatting all stages of WMD terrorism requires constant vigilance against an ever-changing threat landscape. This NSM sets out a comprehensive plan for Departments and Agencies across the Federal government to ensure that the U.S. Government is able to prevent, mitigate, and respond to WMD terrorist attacks. This is one of the most enduring challenges to our national security, and we cannot take on this fight alone. To counter the use of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons by non-state actors at home and abroad, it is necessary to involve the broadest range of partners—including state, local, tribal, and territorial counterparts; private sector partners; and foreign governments—in our work to defeat the threat of WMD terrorism. This NSM also serves as our call to action to disrupt and hold accountable those who provide material, financial, or other support to non-state actors seeking WMD capabilities.

To counter WMD terrorism in the United States and around the world, it is the policy of the United States to:

  1. Prevent non-state actors from acquiring WMD and related materials;
  2. Detect and disrupt WMD terrorism threats;
  3. Deter and prevent actors from supporting WMD terrorism;
  4. Degrade and eliminate WMD-related capabilities of non-state actors;
  5. Enhance resilience and recovery from WMD terrorism events;
  6. Enhance capabilities to anticipate and manage emerging technology that could enable WMD terrorism threats;
  7. Build domestic partner capabilities to counter WMD terrorism; and
  8. Enhance international collaboration to counter WMD terrorism.
Advance Nuclear Material Security: The peaceful uses of nuclear technology provide considerable economic, medical, and environmental benefits. However, the storage, transportation, processing, and use of highly enriched uranium, separated plutonium, and other weapons-usable nuclear material globally present persistent national security risks to the United States. Successful mitigation of nuclear risks requires an integrated approach that combines efforts to eliminate weapons-usable nuclear material through removal or disposition, the maintenance of robust physical security and nuclear material accountancy for existing materials, efforts to counter the theft, diversion, smuggling, and other illicit use of nuclear materials, and an urgent focus on addressing the challenges posed by emerging technologies that may add to the accumulation of weapons usable nuclear materials globally.

To improve nuclear material security and prevent any act of nuclear terrorism, it is the policy of the United States to:

  1. Minimize the production and retention of weapons-usable nuclear materials to only those quantities required to support vital national security interests;
  2. Refrain from the use of weapons-usable nuclear material in new civil reactors or for other civil purposes unless that use supports vital U.S. national interests;
  3. Focus civil nuclear research and development on approaches that avoid producing and accumulating weapons-usable nuclear material and enable viable technologies to replace current civil uses of these materials;
  4. Dispose of nuclear material that is in excess to national security or civil needs in a safe and secure manner;
  5. Promote safe nuclear material management policies and best practices internationally and encourage adoption of analogous policies with international partners and organizations;
  6. Enable multilateral institutions’ nuclear material security activities so they are adequately supported and responsive; and
  7. Ensure national and international capabilities to identify, mitigate, and respond to nuclear material security threats.
Advance Radioactive Material Security: As with nuclear materials and technology, the peaceful uses of radioactive materials provide considerable benefits, although the storage, transportation, processing, and use of radioactive materials globally present a security risk that must be addressed through collective and continuous efforts. Millions of sources are in use worldwide every day, with thousands also disused and in storage, many of which lack disposition options (including final disposal, and other management options such as reuse, recycle, or return to supplier) for disused sources, or lack safe and secure long-term storage. Minimizing the use of these materials where technically and economically feasible alternatives exist reduces risk in our collective national security, health, and economic interest.

In order to reduce the threat of radiological terrorism, it is the policy of the United States to:

  1. Maintain robust security for all high-activity radioactive sources during their lifecycle for all sources that cannot be replaced;
  2. Encourage the replacement of source-based devices with non-radioisotopic alternative technologies, where technically and economically feasible, and continue support for research and development of alternative technologies;
  3. Permanently dispose of or recycle disused and unwanted high-activity radioactive sources;
  4. Maintain consistent standards for the transportation security of radioactive materials;
  5. In keeping with regulatory requirements, apply mitigation measures in case of physical security failures;
  6. Support and coordinate efforts to locate and secure lost or stolen radioactive materials and return them to regulatory control;
  7. Support improvements to state-level and end-user capacities for, commitment to, and implementation of long-term stewardship approaches that ensure these materials will be tracked and secured from theft or diversion; and
  8. Promote U.S. radioactive materials management policies and best practices internationally and encourage adoption of analogous policies, both with individual partner states and through multilateral organizations.
Together with our domestic and international partnerships, these policies will continue to advance longstanding efforts to prevent proliferation and to counter and reduce threats of WMD terrorism at home and abroad.
 

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The Time Russians Really Did Target Americans With Microwaves​





There’s a reason so many diplomats and CIA operatives think Havana Syndrome is real. It’s because it’s happened before — and the Kremlin got away with it.


When James Schumaker first pulled up at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in 1977, he was a young, fresh-faced foreign service officer, eager to add to America’s diplomatic heft in the Soviet Union. As he later remembered, he was more focused on using his background as a Russian translator to help the U.S. in the Cold War, and less concerned with things like personal health and safety.

“When you’re that age, you’re immortal and you’re going to live forever, and nothing affects you,” Schumaker told me.

There was one thing, though, that hung in the back of Schumaker’s mind. A year before his arrival, State Department officials had told embassy staffers and their families that the Soviet Union had been blasting some kind of microwave beam at the embassy for up to 14 hours per day. But American higher-ups said there was little reason for concern. Issuing a “Fact Sheet,” the State Department said that this microwave beam — later dubbed the “Moscow Signal” — was “no cause for concern,” as “no causal relationship had been established between these microwave transmissions and any health problems.”


There was, in other words, nothing to worry about. As a precaution, American officials erected aluminum “screening” around the embassy — all the better to “reduce the anxiety of employees.” But that was it. And so Schumaker went about his work, day in and day out. For years, he and dozens of others operated out of the American embassy, assured that the microwave radiation was perfectly normal.


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By the mid-1970s, President Gerald Ford (center) specifically wrote to Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev (far right) to shut off the radiation. | FPG/Getty Images


It was only years later, when Schumaker received a surprise leukemia diagnosis — and after multiple American ambassadors had already died from cancer, with the another diagnosed with a “severe blood disorder” — that Schumaker realized that microwave radiation, and the U.S.’s lackadaisical response, was far more disastrous, and even fatal, than he ever thought. And in recent months, that realization only deepened, for a pair of reasons.


First, a tranche of newly declassified documents confirmed that the Soviets saturated American embassy staffers in decades of elevated microwave radiation — and American higher-ups spent years trying to sweep the entire affair under the rug. And second, recent revelations about the so-called “Havana Syndrome” have given Schumaker and other diplomats who remember the days of Moscow Signal a sense of, as he sees it, “déjà vu all over again.”

Unfortunately for recent victims of this Havana Syndrome, whose symptoms range from migraines to vertigo to cognitive difficulties, a long-awaited report earlier this month from U.S. intelligence agencies didn’t provide any answers, and only more questions. As U.S. intelligence concluded, the symptoms were “very unlikely” to have been caused by a foreign adversary.

But even with the recent conclusion, the idea that a foreign power — say, Russia — could launch a global campaign of “directed pulsed radio frequency energy” is hardly farfetched. Not only is this the conclusion that others, such as the National Academy of Sciences, have come to. But it wouldn’t even be the first time the Kremlin has launched such a campaign.

And given the recent resurgence of Cold War-era tactics — from cultivating extremists to launching election interference campaigns to creating globe-spanning propaganda outlets — there’s no reason to think that Moscow wouldn’t restart one of its most successful, and arguably its lengthiest, campaign targeting American diplomats once more. After all, the Kremlin got away with it once before. Why not try again?

There are still a broad range of unknowns affiliated with Moscow Signal, not least of which how the microwave beam in Moscow actually originated, and what its ultimate purpose may have been. But thanks to the declassified documents, many of which have been compiled by George Washington University’s National Security Archive, we can start piecing together the program’s timeline, and the kinds of diplomatic shadow-boxing that took place behind the scenes — all of which cloaked the entire program in secrecy, deniability and questions that remain even decades later.

According to the documents, the U.S. discovered that the Soviets had begun directing microwave radiation at the U.S. embassy in 1953. It remains unclear how, exactly, Soviet officials aimed the microwaves at the embassy, but it is clear that the discovery coincided with one of the greatest intelligence snafus of the era.

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United States Representative to the United Nations, Henry Cabot Lodge, points to the spot on the seal where it has been bugged. | Bettmann/Getty Images

Just a year before, American officials had uncovered a hidden bug in the so-called “Great Seal,” a gargantuan wooden carving of the U.S. emblem that Soviet children had gifted the American ambassador, and which hung in the U.S. ambassador’s residence from 1945 to 1952. Suddenly, the Soviets’ greatest asset to gaining insight into internal American diplomatic discussions was foiled.


The timing lends credence to the theory that the microwave radiation was aimed less at physically harming diplomatic staff, and more so at activating other hidden listening devices in the embassy. It was a pattern that had already played out with the “Great Seal” bug, in which distant radio waves, rather than any wiring, activated a microphone. (The “Great Seal” bug was so sophisticated that, as the official embassy write-up notes, it could “only be detected when activated” by these radio waves, which were aimed from a van parked near the residence.)

But even if that was the case, the situation was hardly benign. It still resulted in American embassy staff working day in and day out in a building experiencing far higher levels of radiation than anywhere else in the surrounding area — and in a way that, as the White House later concluded, “represent a hazard to the health” of the Americans working in the building.
Whatever the reason, American officials were surprisingly, almost shockingly, blasé about the entire affair in the 1950s and early 1960s. This was during the height of the Cold War, and there were simply too many other issues — nuclear proliferation, crises in Cuba and Berlin, Red Scares and growing tensions in Vietnam — that demanded American attention elsewhere. Rupturing relations over some microwaves near the embassy was, for Washington, simply not at the top of the list of concerns.


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A map that charts out the source and areas affected by Soviet microwave radiation. | AP via National Security Archive


And so the signal continued — and, as the years went on, grew stronger and stronger. One embassy cable noted that at one point the radiofrequency level had almost tripled, adding that American diplomats were “at a loss to explain this unusual development.” Even after learning about the radioactivity at the embassy, State Department officials sat on their hands, not even warning staff about potential dangers associated with the daily bombardment.


It wasn’t until the late 1960s that U.S. officials, at long last, began leaning on their Soviet counterparts to end the program. By the mid-1970s, after years of stonewalling, American officials had had enough. President Gerald Ford specifically wrote to Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev to shut off the radiation. Yet even then, Brezhnev refused to budge. President Jimmy Carter followed suit, calling out Moscow for the “repeated exposure to unwarranted doses of directed radiation” at the American embassy. As declassified documents now show, Carter’s missive left Brezhnev “angry and disturbed.” “This is stupidity,” Brezhnev railed at the American ambassador in 1977, according to a U.S. cable. “Not one person [has] fallen sick or will fall sick. … These stories are put [out] by ill-wishers who want to worsen relations.”

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On June 25, 1967, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and U.S. Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson met with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to complain about the microwaves. From left to right: Dobrynin, Gromyko, Rusk, Thompson. | Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library


But the pressure apparently worked. Eventually, the radiation tapered off, and the American embassy returned to work as normal. But the microwave beam never fully disappeared, running through the tail end of the 1980s — meaning that the beam continued, off and on, for almost the entirety of the Cold War, making it arguably the Soviets’ longest-running anti-American program of the entire era.

At the time of Brezhnev’s outburst, the claim that no one had “fallen sick” may have been true. But by the time Schumaker had arrived at the embassy, when staffers had finally been made aware of the microwave beam’s existence, that claim was increasingly faulty. One study discovered that as many as one-third of the embassy’s employees had higher white blood counts than normal, and that “blood counts returned to normal a few weeks after departing Moscow.”

That’s not necessarily confirmation that the Soviets’ microwave radiation caused the elevated blood counts. But at the time, a pair of former American ambassadors stationed in Moscow had recently died from cancer, and another had been diagnosed with a “severe blood disorder.” As the Foreign Service Journal summed up, “To most Moscow staffers, it just seemed like too much of a coincidence.”

Indeed, new findings are now calling into question the studies and claims that officials relied on back then to dismiss health concerns.

To Schumaker, that reality hit home a few years after he returned from Moscow, when a doctor diagnosed him with chronic lymphocytic leukemia — a disease that emerged after he’d arrived in Moscow in “perfect health.”

“I have always considered Moscow microwaves to be a prime suspect,” Schumaker remembered. “[The diagnosis] came as a shock, as I have no family history of leukemia. It is a puzzle to which there is still no answer.”

It’s a puzzle to which diplomats struggling with Havana Syndrome symptoms can relate — and in more ways than just the physical. Much like the Moscow Signal experience, those suffering from Havana Syndrome have continued to be dismissed by many, including by officials in Washington, as cranks or hypochondriacs. And especially after the recent intelligence conclusions, those dismissals will likely continue. “You can say with certainty that the U.S. government’s reaction to reports of the Havana Syndrome was typical — and almost exactly the same as in the case of Moscow Signal,” Schumaker, who survived his leukemia diagnosis, told me. “It was first the bureaucratic impulse to push everything away and say, ‘It’s not happening, it’s not happening — these people are just imagining things, it’s all in their heads.’ And it was the same sort of thing with Havana Syndrome.”


If anything, the Moscow Signal and the Havana Syndrome are something of a mirror image of one another. In the former, we have confirmation that the Soviets spent decades saturating American diplomatic staff in microwave radiation — though the link to subsequent symptoms remains ultimately unclear. In the latter, we have a clear constellation of symptoms (and a far broader range of targets) — but no ultimate, identifiable cause. And after the recent conclusion from the intelligence agencies, any answer appears further away than ever.

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But if past is any precedent — as it’s certainly been in recent years, especially when it comes to relations between Moscow and Washington — there’s every reason to think that Russia remains a potential culprit, whose culpability may only emerge in future document declassifications. After all, the Moscow Signal is not the only directed-radiation scheme that declassified documents recently revealed the Soviets to be guilty of.
Even before the Moscow Signal became a cause for concern in Washington, the Soviets, as the National Security Archive recently discovered, “exposed then Vice President Richard Nixon and his wife, Pat, to ionizing radiation during his famous visit to Moscow in July 1959,” with “significant levels of radiation in and around Nixon’s sleeping quarters at … the residence of the U.S. Ambassador.” As with the Moscow Signal — and the Havana Syndrome — the specific source of the radiation was unclear; one American official said it may have “emanated from an atomic battery,” used primarily to activate another listening bug. Whatever the reason, it’s yet another instance of Moscow authorities targeting American officials with undeclared radiation — the details of which still remain murky.


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If anything, the Moscow Signal and the Havana Syndrome are something of a mirror image of one another. | Ramon Espinosa/AP Photo


There’s no evidence the radiation had any ill effects on Nixon, or that he was even aware of the elevated levels. But the recent revelations are one more piece of evidence revealing Moscow’s abilities — and willingness to use — these kinds of directed radiation schemes to target American officials and American diplomats.


Nixon’s irradiation “fits because it shows that the Soviets back at that time, and probably the Russians now, are willing to do most anything,” Schumaker told me. And with all that we know about the Havana Syndrome, it all appears to be “Moscow Signal all over again.”
 

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Exclusive: Tons of uranium missing from Libyan site, IAEA tells member states​


U.N. nuclear watchdog inspectors have found that roughly 2.5 tons of natural uranium have gone missing from a Libyan site that is not under government control, the watchdog told member states in a statement on Wednesday seen by Reuters.

The finding is the result of an inspection originally planned for last year that "had to be postponed because of the security situation in the region" and was finally carried out on Tuesday, according to the confidential statement by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi.

IAEA inspectors "found that 10 drums containing approximately 2.5 tons of natural uranium in the form of UOC (uranium ore concentrate) previously declared by (Libya) ... as being stored at that location were not present at the location," the one-page statement said.


The agency would carry out "further activities" to determine the circumstances of the uranium's removal from the site, which it did not name, and where it is now, the statement added.


"The loss of knowledge about the present location of nuclear material may present a radiological risk, as well as nuclear security concerns," it said, adding that reaching the site required "complex logistics".

In 2003 Libya under then-leader Muammar Gaddafi renounced its nuclear weapons programme, which had obtained centrifuges that can enrich uranium as well as design information for a nuclear bomb, though it made little progress towards a bomb.

Libya has had little peace since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising ousted Gaddafi. Since 2014, political control has been split between rival eastern and western factions, with the last major bout of conflict ending in 2020.

Libya's interim government, put in place in early 2021 through a U.N.-backed peace plan, was only supposed to last until an election scheduled for December of that year that has still not been held, and its legitimacy is now also disputed.
 

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A radioactive cylinder has gone missing in Thailand. Authorities are now scrambling to find it​


Authorities in Thailand are scrambling to locate a metal cylinder with dangerous radioactive contents that went missing from a power plant this week, warning the public of serious health risks should they come across it.

The revelation comes just two months after Australia was forced to launch a similar hunt to find a tiny radioactive capsule that was eventually located by the side of a highway.

But while that Australian capsule was lost in the country’s remote outback hundreds of miles from the nearest major city – the Thai canister has disappeared in a much more populated area.

The cylinder, measuring 30 centimeters (4 inches) long and 13 centimeters (5 inches) wide, was reported missing during routine checks by staff on March 10, at the coal power plant in Prachin Buri, a province in central Thailand, east of the capital Bangkok.

The province has a population of nearly half a million people and houses some of Thailand’s best national parks, including the famed Khao Yai National Park which is popular with both local and international tourists.

The parks are a common day trip from nearby Bangkok, a sprawling megacity of some 14 million people.

Used for measuring ash, the cylinder was part of a silo and contains Caesium-137, a highly radioactive substance that scientists say is potentially lethal.

Search teams and drones have been deployed to recover the missing cylinder, according to a statement from the Office of Atoms for Peace (OAP), a government regulator for radioactive and nuclear research in Thailand.

Deputy Secretary General Pennapa Kanchana told CNN on Wednesday they were using radioactive detection equipment to locate the cylinder.

“We are searching in waste recycling shops in the area,” she said. “We are (using) survey equipment to detect for signals. For areas we cannot reach, we have dispatched drones and robots.”

Also involved in the search are Thai police, who believe the cylinder has been missing since February but was only officially reported lost by the National Power Plant 5 company on Friday.

Experts warn that Caesium-137 can create serious health problems for people who come into contact with it: skin burns from close exposure, radiation sickness and potentially deadly cancer risks, especially for those exposed unknowingly for long periods of time.

Caesium-137 has a half-life of about 30 years, which means it could pose a risk to the population for decades to come, if not found.

Pennapa, from the Office of Atoms for Peace, urged the public not to panic.

“If general people (come into) contact unknowingly, the health effects will depend on the level of the (radiation) intensity. If it’s high, the first thing we will see is skin irritation.”

It is not the first time something like this has happened in Thailand.

In 2000, according to the Congressional Research Service report, canisters containing another radioactive isotope, cobalt-60, were bought by two scrap collectors, who took it to a junkyard where it was cut open.

Some workers suffered burn-like injuries, and eventually three people died and seven others suffered radiation injuries, the report said. Nearly 2,000 others who lived nearby were exposed to radiation.

But Pennapa said the canister that is currently missing is far less radioactive than the incident in 2000.

The most recent case in Thailand follows a similar incident in Western Australia in January when a tiny capsule, also containing Caesium-137, went missing along a remote outback highway while being transported from an iron ore mine to a depot in Perth.

After a challenging six-day search, the capsule was eventually found and officials are still investigating how it apparently fell off the back of a vehicle during transit.

Nuclear radiation experts in Australia who previously spoke to CNN said that the loss of that capsule was “very unusual” and spoke about challenges of recovering such a tiny device.

But a good thing, they said, was that the search area was extremely isolated.

“So it would be very unlikely to have much impact (on people),” said Ivan Kempson, an associate professor in Biophysics from the University of Southern Australia.

But there had been some past examples, Kempson noted, of people finding similar things and suffering radiation poisoning.

“The concern… is the potential impact on health of the person who would find the capsule,” he said.
 

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People need to take radiological incidents seriously.

Even the smallest amounts can turn a city into a radiological disaster.

People forget the enormous gravity of how powerful radioactive material is. This small amount from a medical equipment can do this.
 

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