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Dublin: 14 °C Sunday 22 September, 2019

How often do radioactive materials go missing in Ireland?

The Radiological Protection Institute tells us more about the stolen lightning preventers, what they are and when the last time radioactive materials were stolen.

Radiation symbol
Radiation symbol

AT THE END of September, gardaí issued an appeal after radioactive material was stolen during the course of burglary in Swords in Dublin.

The burglars stole seven lightning preventers which were contained in a red metal box. The red box has radiation warning signs, a  yellow triangle with a black trefoil symbol.

Since then, gardaí have renewed their appeal and the objects are still missing.

How often?

But how often do radioactive objects go missing or get stolen in Ireland?

Tom Ryan of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland said an incident like this “is a very rare event in this country”.

There have been events in the past. In 2004, there was a similar incident. The very same object – a lightening preventer – was removed from the roof of a church in Donegal.

A major search was underway and the object was recovered, thankfully. We hope we will have the same result.

Ryan said there have been no other thefts that the Radiological Protection Institute is aware of.

Lightening preventers

So what are lightening preventers and why are they radioactive? He said:

Back in the 60s/70s there was a theory these lightning preventers placed on top of a lightening conductor would give more protection to a building.

The idea was the radioactive element would make it a more efficient lightning conductor – but this has long been debunked

He said that these sorts of lightning preventers are no longer in use and those that are already installed on buildings are being removed, which is what had happened to the seven that were stolen in Swords.

They were in storage and scheduled to be sent for destruction in Germany.

There are just four radioactive lightning preventers left in the entire country which are scheduled to be destroyed also.

There are laws that govern this area, he said, adding that people who have these sort of radioactive objects in their posession have to live up to their responsibility.

He added that their primary concern now is to recover the materials that were stolen in Swords.

Whoever took these are in danger. Anyone in the proximity of these lightening preventers will exceed their annual exposure in the matter of hours.

If they contaminate their hands by handling the objects and then eat something, they are at even more risk of ingesting radiation which is very serious.

Read: Gardaí renew appeal for stolen radioactive materials>

Read: Highly dangerous radioactive material stolen by burglar in Swords>

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