PRACHIN BURI: The Office of Atoms for Peace (OAP) said on Monday that furnace dust contaminated with hazardous caesium-137 found at a metal foundry in Kabin Buri district had now been safely contained.
Kitkawin Aramrun, OAP senior radiation physicist, confirmed at a press conference at the Prachin Buri government complex that he found caesium-137-contaminated furnace dust at a local metalworks. There was no other contamination detected within a five-kilometre radius outside the factory.
"Contaminated furnace dust was contained within the compound and did not leave it... There is no contamination in the environment of Prachin Buri," he said.
A lot of bagged furnace dust from the melting plant had left the premises, but officials found no contamination in any of them, Mr Kitkawin said. Nor were any of the 70 employees contaminated with the isotope.
The announcement by the OAP and Prachin Buri provincial officials followed the disappearance of a large tube of caesium-137 from the National Power Plant 5A Company facility in the 304 Industrial Park in tambon Tha Tum of Si Maha Phot district. Its disappearance was reported to police on March 10. Radioactive caesium-137 is used in measuring devices.
The missing metal tube is about 13 centimetres in diameter and 20cm in length and weighs 25 kilogrammes. It has still not been found. Officials suspect it was stolen and sold as scrap metal.
Officials said on Sunday that contamination had been discovered at a steel melting plant that had since been closed and sealed off in tambon Hat Nang Kaeo of Kabin Buri district.
Authorities on Monday still refused to name the steel plant, saying only that it was about 10 kilometres from the power plant.
OAP secretary-general Permsuk Sutchaphiwat said the plant melted scrap metal at 1,000 degrees Celsius. The melt metal would not be contaminated.
Caesium-137 naturally left melt metal at about 600°C and would exist with the furnace dust, which was kept inside the closed-system melting plant.
Mr Permsuk said the management used one big bag of the contaminated furnace dust as ground-fill inside its compound. The OAP had already had the contaminated soil excavated and safely stored inside the plant warehouse.
The melting plant was closed and cordoned off. The OAP would find a place to safely dispose of the contaminated furnace dust, Mr Permsuk said.
Prachin Buri governor Narong Nakhonchinda said that there were 10 big bags of contaminated furnace dust. Each bag contained about one tonne of the dust.
Provincial health chief Dr Surin Suebsueng said caesium-137 contamination could harm skin and the digestive and nerve systems and could cause leukaemia.
Symptoms of contamination included seizure, vomiting and diarrhoea. Health officials reported that no patients had exhibited such acute symptoms.
Pol Maj Gen Winai Nutcha, commander of Prachin Buri police, said it was believed the contaminated furnace dust was linked to the missing caesium-137 tube.
Police would find out how the tube had left the power plant and charges would be brought against the management, he said.