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Radioactive device on the loose

CHINESE investigators are searching urgently for a radioactive device lost at a cement plant, but it may have already been sold to scrap metal collectors in a northwestern city.

A lead ball containing Caesium-137, part of a nuclear scale used to make precise measurements, was lost on Monday as workers disassembled the 53-year-old Qinling Cement Co in Tongchuan in Shaanxi Province after it failed to meet environmental protection standards.

Caesium-137 is an extremely toxic radioactive isotope, formed through nuclear fission. It can cause cancer years after it is inhaled, eaten or absorbed into the body.

The device, which emits gamma rays and was used to measure the weight of production materials on conveyer belts, might have been sold among steel scraps turned over to waste collectors and then resold to steel mills, according to officials.

The Tongchuan government has set up an investigation team and ordered a search for the device.

The search will include two steel plants in neighboring Weinan City.


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