Portable nuclear device missing from stolen vehicle in Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania authorities are searching for a missing portable nuclear device containing radioactive material belonging to a local building inspection company.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection said the device, a portable nuclear gauge, is often used at construction sites to “assess the properties of building materials and road beds.” But if mishandled or damaged, people can be exposed to radioactive contamination.

A Troxler Model 3340 portable nuclear gauge.Troxler Electronic Laboratories, Inc. through Penn. Environmental Protection Department

The nuclear density gauge belonging to KAKS and Company LLC was safely stored inside a vehicle that was allegedly stolen in the city of Philadelphia, the agency said in a news release Friday. When the car was found, the gauge was missing.

If the device’s sealed sources of radioactive material are severely damaged or hit by a vehicle, “there is a risk of damage to the radioactive source and spread of contamination,” according to the agency.

“It is essential that anyone with information about the lost nuclear gauge contact local authorities or the DEP,” David Allard, director of the Radiation Protection Bureau, said in a statement. “As long as the device is not tampered with or damaged, it poses no danger to public safety.”

But environmental authorities said they believe the gauge “may have been damaged after the vehicle was stolen”. That’s why authorities are urging anyone who comes across the device not to handle it and to contact authorities to allow a trained person to retrieve it.

Exposure to low levels of radiation may not pose an immediate health risk, but may cause a small increase in lifetime cancer risk, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. High levels of radiation exposure over a short period can cause nausea and vomiting.

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