At least 76 radioactive devices — several of which could be used in a terrorist attack — have gone missing in Canada over the last five years, newly compiled figures show.
They’re stolen from cars, disappear from construction sites, fall off trucks and generally go astray at an alarming pace.
Some of the incidents would be laughable if the potential implications weren’t so serious:
- A smash-and-grab crew in Red Deer, Alta., played hot potato with a radioactive device after stealing a trailer containing the dangerous item.
- A Quebec inspection firm has lost six nuclear gauges to thieves in the last three years.
- A radioactive tool was turned in by an honest citizen after it fell out of a truck making a right-hand turn in Peterborough, Ont.
Many of the items were recovered. Others simply weren’t potent enough to pose serious hazards. But radiation safety experts say several devices that went missing, even if temporarily, could have posed a genuine security risk in the wrong hands.
How much of a risk?
The blast from wrapping radioactive material with a conventional explosive would likely kill or maim few people. But it could spew radiation up to several kilometres, depending on wind speed and the type of material used, forcing evacuations and breeding chaos.
That’s why they’ve been dubbed “weapons of mass disruption.”
Preliminary findings of a federal study released to the Canadian Press say a gauge like the one stolen in Red Deer, detonated near Toronto’s CN Tower, would spew radiation over four square kilometres and cost the economy up to $23.5 billion.
In fact, explosives would not even be needed. A terrorist could leave an unshielded radioactive device — a so-called silent bomb — in a park or airport lounge.
A radical proposal: Instead of pointless PR gestures like no-fly lists, how about we step up common sense security measures – for example, not allowing nuclear devices to fall off the backs of trucks (both literally and figuratively).