Mexico City - Hijackers who opened containers inside the lorry they stole in Mexico earlier this week unwittingly exposed themselves to dangerous radiation and are most likely seriously ill or already dead, a Mexican nuclear security official said on Thursday.
Police were searching for the armed robbers who stole the lorry with a dangerous cargo of radioactive hospital waste on Monday from a petrol station outside Mexico City.
Authorities recovered the truck on Wednesday and said the container holding the material had been opened and its contents spread on a field.
“These people had not the slightest idea what they took out. Apparently they were not specialists,” physicist Mardonio Jimenez of the National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards told reporters.
“The risk of them dying is very great.”
They were likely exposed to radiation but pose no danger to others, he said. Police were still searching for the suspects.
“Whoever took the material out of the container is in bad shape or already dead,” nuclear commission chief Juan Eibenschutz said.
The material's dangerous radiation was preventing authorities from recovering it.
Authorities asked people living in the neighbouring town of Hueypoxtla to stay in their homes, and the area has been cordoned off.
The lorry with the radioactive material was hijacked in Hidalgo state. Two armed robbers overpowered the driver while he was on a break, tied him up and left him in an open area, the newspaper El Universal reported.
The hijackers probably burned themselves when they opened the containers and discarded the radioactive material, not knowing what to do, Eibenschutz told MVS radio.
In Washington a White House spokesman said it had monitored the situation as it unfolded on Wednesday, had been in close touch with Mexican officials and taken precautions along the border.
Spokesman Jay Carney said: “At this point we do not have any reason to believe that the stolen vehicle ever posed a threat to the United States.” - Sapa-dpa