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.
The revelation comes just two months after Australia was forced to launch a similar hunt to locate a tiny radioactive capsule that was eventually located.
But while that Australian capsule was lost in a remote rural area, the Thai canister has disappeared in a much more populated part of the world.
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.
Used for measuring ash, the cylinder was part of a silo and contains Caesium-137, a highly radioactive substance that scientists say can be 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, 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.
Police have examined CCTV footage from the plant, Si Maha Phot district police chief Mongkol Thopao told CNN – but were hindered by “limited views” of the machine.
“It is unclear if the item was stolen and sold to a recycling shop or misplaced elsewhere,” Mongkol said. “We have dispatched our teams to recycle shops around the area… we still couldn’t find it.”
The case 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. Experts who previously spoke to CNN said the loss of that capsule was “very unusual” and spoke about challenges of recovering such a tiny device.
The Office of Atoms for Peace warned of Caesium-137’s serious side effects.
It urged the public not to panic and to return the item if found.