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Security Science

Radioactive Tool Goes Missing In Texas 163

Posted by samzenpus
from the where'd-I-put-that? dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Oil-field service companies lower radioactive units into wells to let workers identify places to break apart rock for a drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which frees oil and natural gas. Now Bloomberg reports that Halliburton workers have discovered that a lock on the container used to transport one such device has gone missing, along with the unit, after employees drove a truck from a site near Peco to a well south of Odessa and while the loss of radioactive rods occurs from time to time, it has been years since a device with americium-241/beryllium, the material in Halliburton's device, was misplaced in Texas. NRC spokeswoman Maureen Conley says the material would have to be in someone's physical possession for several hours for it to be considered harmful as teams comb the route between the two wellsites searching for the seven-inch tube, which is clearly marked with the words 'DANGER RADIOACTIVE' as well as a radiation warning symbol, "Halliburton strongly cautions members of the public that if they locate this source, they should not touch or handle it, stay a minimum of 25 feet away," and contact local law enforcement or the company's emergency hotline if they find the cylinder, says the company which is also offering a reward for information about the tube's whereabouts."
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Radioactive Tool Goes Missing In Texas

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  • by grumling (94709) on Monday September 17, 2012 @08:59AM (#41361329) Homepage

    Looking forward to seeing what the experts think it's worth on next week's Pawn Stars.

    • I came here to make a porn movie joke which is the first thing I thought of when I read "radioactive tool", sadly... "I'm a bad bad Mormon" style.

      I figure with your pawn reference and sig that you've beaten me to it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2012 @08:59AM (#41361345)

    Such tools are routinely use to estimate density in pretty much all oilfield well logging.

    • by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Monday September 17, 2012 @10:43AM (#41362521)
      Around 1990 I was working at an oilfield testing company that had the grown kid of the original company owner at the helm. The guy was a moron and didn't care how the company functioned as long as the money kept coming in for him to go play the horses at a local racetrack.

      Anyway, the field guys lost a radioactive source and couldn't find it. They thought it bounced out of an unsecured lead canister along a road somewhere.

      They got their hand slapped for it but somewhere in the midwest there is a hot source laying by the road. Or was. Who knows if anyone ever found it.

      These kinds of things are inexcusable because anyone who happens to find one and pick it up has their life changed. Cancer and death awaits if anyone spends any length of time with one of those sources. If a company cannot follow a checklist for handling one of those sources, they should not be allowed to use them.
      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by cellocgw (617879)

        Around 1990 I was working at an oilfield testing company that had the grown kid of the original company owner at the helm. The guy was a moron and didn't care how the company functioned as long as the money kept coming in for him to go play the horses at a local racetrack.
        I'm sorry, but I just can't resist asking: were the owner and his kid named George H W and George W?

      • So...you never told anyone outside the company about it???
      • by RockDoctor (15477)
        The sources used in wireline / LWD logging are moderately dangerous - I'd not carry one in my pocket - but not that bad. It's not like they're going to flay your flesh if you approach them closer than a kilometre.

        When I have to do a site survey to check for background radiation (before doing pre- and post- job calibrations, before doing core-gamma), it's generally hard to tell where the transit container had sat on the catwalk just a couple of hours previously.

        If you were talking about a source for radiog

  • Thoughts (Score:5, Funny)

    by Sparticus789 (2625955) on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:00AM (#41361349) Journal

    If the finder does not contact law enforcement, then I feel this issue is best left up to natural selection. First to nominate for a Darwin award.

    • Re:Thoughts (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:27AM (#41361651) Journal

      If the finder does not contact law enforcement, then I feel this issue is best left up to natural selection. First to nominate for a Darwin award.

      Depending on exactly how the source is encapulated, it may well not work out so neatly. If mechanically damaged, Americium-241 could come out to play and get all over the place, including friends, family, and general passers-by who hardly did anything to deserve an award...

      This thing isn't exactly an unalterable inventory item that just happens to do 1d6 radiation damage every hour it remains in a character's inventory.

      • Re:Thoughts (Score:4, Funny)

        by Greyfox (87712) on Monday September 17, 2012 @10:20AM (#41362213) Homepage Journal
        Yeah! It's at least 2d20 area effect, unless you make the saving throw against radiation!
      • No one said natural selection was fair. Just ask all those dinosaurs whose only fault was adapting well to a time before the comet hit. Or all those other organisms we're driving to extinction now, who are well adapted to a world without humans.

        Anyway, the darwin awards were always a joke. It started well after Eldrege and Gould came out with punctuated equalibrium: the founders of the Darwin Awards were probably aware that natural selection doesn't work like that, with individual animals taking thems
        • by wed128 (722152)

          Stupid is usually preferred evolutionarily speaking anyway. Bacteria are winning at evolution. It's not even close.

          Close...

          Simple wins at evolution. Bacteria are the simplist solution.

          • And what is stupid if not "simple." Most of the darwin winners are people who simply failed to think things through. Having no foresight = simpler or stupider.

            There are also feasible mechanisms for how this could play out with human evolution: either failing to think out the consequences of unprotected sex, or thinking that their God wants them to have as many children as possible.

            Fortunately, if that hypothesis was true, it would have occurred earlier in human history.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              And what is stupid if not "simple."

              Stupidity and Simplicity are orthogonal. Complex solutions can be stupid. Simplicity can be brilliant.

          • by morgauxo (974071)
            Intelligent brains are extremely complex. Yes, simple is stupid in this context. Simple brains require far less food to keep alive. Yes.. evolution prefers stupid. We are a very strange anomaly.
          • I'd say that neither is true. Bacteria aren't neither the simplest nor the most stupid (define as you like) thing to ever live on Earth.

            What is or is not advantajeous to an organism isn't so simple to rule. If you look at Earth's history, several times a increase in complexity allowed a small set of organisms to competely outcompete every other organism on the planet (we have at least 3 such botlenecks on our past). Also, several times complexity doomed a species.

      • by morgauxo (974071)
        Except people tend to share this sort of thing. He could take it somewhere that others are exposed without the benefit of having had the chance to see what it is and make a smart decision. Worst case, and this has happened, he removes the radioactive warning stamp, or mixes it in with other metals so that one doesn't see it and sells it to a recycler. Then it gets melted and becomes part of some product you go buy in a store.
      • by steveg (55825)

        Well logging sources are very well encapsulated -- they have two layers of pressure vessel around them, and they're pretty tough. Nothing's invulnerable, but anyone trying to break one open would really have to be *trying*.

        The real danger is exposure to the radiation itself, not so much chemical contamination.

    • Re:More Thoughts (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There is a slim chance that the device was left behind at the last well-head where it was used. That would explain both the radioactive source and the container padlock being missing. More distressing is the prospect that an outsider with ill intent wandered into the area of the well-head while the crew was on lunch break/siesta, broke into the container and stole it. That person should definitely be awarded a Darwin Award. That doesn't necessarily explain the missing padlock, as it is just something of lit

  • Great Scott!

  • From time to time? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by djdanlib (732853) on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:02AM (#41361379) Homepage

    Wait. Who's saying that "the loss of radioactive rods occurs from time to time" in such a nonchalant way, like they're trying to convince the readers that it's no big deal? It's a big deal. You don't just lose stuff like that.. they're transported in large, heavy packages!

    • This sounds funny in a John de Lancie "Q" voice.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It is no big deal. *waves the jedi mind trick*

      Seriously though, Halliburton's disasters must be measured on a different scale. Hell, they were involved in the Deepwater Horizon and got away with it. Do you think that a few rods of nuclear material worries them? The worst case is that they get a new government contract for building a nuclear bunker against terrorism.

    • It sadly does occur from time to time. You don't always have the brightest bulbs handling those things out in the field.

      I used to work at a company that lost one.

      I think people should go to jail if they lose a source. It's inexcusable.
  • Better link (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm (69642) on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:02AM (#41361385)

    while the loss of radioactive rods occurs from time to time

    This is a better link

    http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/event-status/event/ [nrc.gov]

    Its pretty interesting reading. I think I heard about it from RISKS digest maybe a decade ago. About a half dozen reports are filed every day. At least one will be interesting, or at least WTF worthy. The story about the weld radiographer getting the source stuck while he was up a ladder so he took the source out and wore it like a necklace as he went down the ladder a couple days ago is WTF worthy.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Particularly liking this one:

      "FITNESS FOR DUTY - CONTRACT SUPERVISOR TESTED POSITIVE FOR ALCOHOL"

      Maybe that's what it takes to work at a nuclear power plant in Florida...

      • by Beorytis (1014777)
        D'oh! Quite a wide range of events there... Pu-238 pacemaker recovered from funeral home (fortunately before cremation). Y-90 microspheres administered to wrong site. (A Medical Event may indicate potential problems in a medical facility's use of radioactive materials. It does not necessarily result in harm to the patient.)
        • by vlm (69642)

          (A Medical Event may indicate potential problems in a medical facility's use of radioactive materials. It does not necessarily result in harm to the patient.)

          Yeah not directly. They're full of stories like "shipping envelope received torn and empty" (would not want to be the fedex driver at a hospital) and seemingly endless reports along the lines of "shipping manifest listed 4 sources only 3 found in shipment". Where are all those things going, anyway?

          • by Beorytis (1014777)
            I think that parenthetical comment was just NRC's clarification regarding their definition of the term "Medical Event". The scenario you describe wouldn't be called a "Medical Event".
    • WTF worthy? Not according to his co-workers who he visited recently. They simply thought he looked old; others thought he just put on weight.

  • If it wasn't the insidious company in question, I wouldn't be nearly as skeptical and suspicious that there's something deeper and far more nefarious going on here...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:09AM (#41361465)

    I don't think the description of purpose is actually accurate. Pretty sure they're talking about a Radioactive Densometer used to measure fluid density, which is used at the surface and attached to pipes pumping fluid, and isn't lowered into a well or whatever. It's basically a section of pipe with a very small radioactive source on one side, and a detector across from it. The measured decay rate tells you the fluid density accurately (the denser the fluid, the more radiation is blocked). They're actually fairly harmless in terms of radiation levels, although it's still important to recover lost ones.

    • Something consisting of Am and Be is going to be a neutron source, and be used to make the minerals exposed to it radioactive via neutron capture. Not long ago, nearly all neutron sources for this were "Active" in that they shot a beam of mixed DT against a target holding more D and T, on batteries. They're hot as hell, and like I said - make things around them radioactive. If you have this, and a gamma spectrometer down the same hole, by the resulting gamma spectrum, you can tell what's there. Am has o
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:09AM (#41361467)

    The nuclear density gauges are relatively common in civil engineering.Yeah, they go missing from time to time.

    How they usually go missing--some joker steals a worker's truck on a job site. The idiot doesn't realize he has taken a van with a restricted device in the back. Then a world of hurt descends on the person when they are finally caught.

    The person who was in charge of the gauge finds they are in trouble for leaving the vehicle unsecured.

  • Oh boy! (Score:5, Informative)

    by bmo (77928) on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:10AM (#41361489)

    This reminds me of the Goiania accident, a horrifying incident where someone stole the radiation source to a radiotherapy machine.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goi%C3%A2nia_accident [wikipedia.org]

    A choice bit:

    On September 24, Ivo, Devair's brother, scraped dust out of the source, taking it to his house a short distance away. There he spread some of it on the cement floor. His six-year-old daughter, Leide das Neves Ferreira, later ate a sandwich while sitting on the floor. She was also fascinated by the blue glow of the powder, and applying it to her body, showed it off to her mother. Dust from the powder fell on the sandwich she was consuming; she eventually absorbed 1.0 GBq, total dose 6.0 Gy

    It glows, let's use it for makeup.

    --
    BMO

    • Re:Oh boy! (Score:4, Informative)

      by lobiusmoop (305328) on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:15AM (#41361537) Homepage

      Reminded me more of Davd Hahn [wikipedia.org] - thought he was maybe up to his old tricks again and looking for a large amount of Americium (not from fire alarms this time though).

      • by dr_dank (472072)

        As recently as 2007, David Hahn was up to old tricks and it's literally written on his face if you see the mugshot [radjournal.com].

    • Re:Oh boy! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:24AM (#41361621)

      Category 3 means this is maybe 1/1000 to 1/100,000 as strong as the source in Goiania, and it's a single metal rod, not a large container of powder. Very different scenario. Industrial radiography sources are ubiquitous and are lost/damaged on a regular basis with minimal consequences.

    • Re:Oh boy! (Score:4, Informative)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:35AM (#41361729) Journal

      TFA(to the best of my layman's understanding) suggests that this one is a stainless steel pipe with an Americum source behind a beryllium window.

      If some dumbass cuts it open, or decides to look down the tube for an extended period, things will get bad; but as long as it is mechanically undisturbed it won't be a huge deal.

      The Goiania incident was particularly nasty because the source was opened and Caesium chloride(started out as a dust, also readily water-soluble, for extra pollution potential...) went all over the place. Had nobody opened the source, exposure would have been trivial. Incidents like that are(part of) the reason why the graphic designers behind the nuclear trefoil attempted to come up with something that was overtly threatening looking, even to somebody who might not speak English or even be literate in their local language.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yes, if whoever has it decides to break it open that will make things worse, but still, this source is several orders of magnitude smaller than the medical source in Goiania. We're probably looking at a few giga-becquerel. Goiania was 51 tera-becquerel. On top of that, Goiania was Cs-137, which is a beta/gamma emitter. This is Am-241, an alpha emitter. As several other people have mentioned, you (hopefully) have some of it hanging from your kitchen ceiling. As long as you don't eat it or rub it in your eyes

    • by ch-chuck (9622)

      Wow, what a story. All because a guard blew off work to go see, 'Herbie Goes Bananas'.

    • by fak3r (917687)
      No, the REAL Choice bit: "On September 13, 1987, the guard in charge of daytime security, Voudireinão da Silva, did not show up to work, using a sick day to attend a cinema screening of Herbie Goes Bananas with his family"
  • This is the same stuff that is used in smoke detectors. IIRC, it only emits alpha radiation which can be blocked by a sheet of paper.
    I don't know about beryllium though.

  • Stake out the metal recycling places nearby
  • "NRC spokeswoman Maureen Conley says the material would have to be in someone's physical possession for several hours for it to be considered harmful"

    So there is no problem handling it for a few minutes until you bring it to the nearest Halliburton site. Then employees can take turns handling the material for less than an hour and no one will be harmed.

    See, no reason for panic.. just RTFA.
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:30AM (#41361673)
    From the picture [state.tx.us] I would say that if you get close enough to read the "Danger Radioactive" you've already got problems.
  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:34AM (#41361719) Homepage

    ...Homer Simpson!

    I actually want to mod myself down for that one.

  • by Colourspace (563895) on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:35AM (#41361725)
    Down the back of Homer Simpsons rad suit yet?
  • by SlippyToad (240532) on Monday September 17, 2012 @09:45AM (#41361819)

    Halliburton: Endangering American Lives, With Taxpayer Dollars!

    God, if there were ever a corporation that needed to be dissolved in a vat of acid and the remains scattered to the far corners of the earth, Halliburton is it. They are the epitome of casual, incompetent, expensive evil.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Americium-241 decays mostly by alpha emission, and is near harmless as long as it is not ingested or inhaled. It's in smoke detectors.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isotopes_of_americium#Americium-241
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americium#Isotopes

    • by PPH (736903)
      But in California they force fed smoke detectors to lab rats. And they died.
      • by jbeaupre (752124) on Monday September 17, 2012 @10:11AM (#41362139)

        But in California they force fed smoke detectors to lab rats. And they died.

        Moral of the story: don't feed smoke detectors to rats if you value your life.

      • by Greyfox (87712)
        Ratman! Bitten by a rat irradiated by Halliburton, he develops super rat powers! Among these are a cute wiggly nose, the ability to eat cheese (A LOT of cheese) and the ability to pop out with cancer at the drop of a hat! He spends the rest of his days hawking third-rate pizza to unsuspecting children!
        • Captain Planet already did a rat-mutated villain. Verminous Skumm. Specialist in biological warfare, and aspiring ruler of the world. Due to his extreme ugliness and residence in the sewers he is often shunned even by the other villains, but his demonstrated scientific abilities are second only to Blight.
          • I claim prior art [wikipedia.org]
            • You're far from the first to notice that simularity, but it seems to be entirely coincidential. They are both characters using the popular (accurate) perception of sewer rats as disease-ridden filthy animals, but Verminous just draws upon that image while Splinter subverts it. Both use it though to explain the character's isolation. Like all Captain Planet villains, Verminous never got a true origin story. I wonder if any fanfics address this.
    • by hawguy (1600213)

      Americium-241 decays mostly by alpha emission, and is near harmless as long as it is not ingested or inhaled. It's in smoke detectors.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isotopes_of_americium#Americium-241
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americium#Isotopes [wikipedia.org]

      The bigger problem is that the Beryllium makes the Am-241 into a Neutron Source [wikipedia.org].

      Which is isn't all that great for human health [wikipedia.org]

      So I still wouldn't sleep with one of these under my bed even though I have Am-241 in the smoke detector over my bed.

  • I propose a new term for this category of nuclear incident [wikipedia.org]: Lost American
  • What with the events in the Middle East these days, it's getting too dangerous to steal radioactive material from the Libyans.

  • Am-241 is an alpha emitter. It barely penetrates a sheet of paper. And it's used in virtually every smoke detector out there.

    Now a seven inch rod of the stuff - yeah I can see why they'd want that one back.
    • by Alioth (221270)

      A seven inch rod of the stuff plus beryllium - which turns it into a neutron source - making it pretty damned dangerous (much more dangerous than a mere alpha emitter).

  • The articles reference warnings to the public to "stay back" if you see it, but don’t seem to really describe what it looks like. It has been described as a rod, so it's a cylindrical shape, but what size? Would it be similar to a pencil, hot dog, can of soda, 5 gallon paint bucket, oil barrel, what? Is it in a container? If so, what size and color? Bigger than a bread box?, etc
  • ....Ready, set, lose your shit.
  • by Phase Shifter (70817) on Monday September 17, 2012 @12:13PM (#41363669) Homepage
    It's an election year.

    Aren't potentially dangerous tools supposed to be getting lost?

  • Poor old Uncle Choo-Choo. No love on /. for that radioactive tool.
  • Be on the lookout for a 1964 Chevrolet Malibu. Do not open the trunk. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repo_Man_(film) [wikipedia.org]
  • "Did you look under the sofa cushions — in Hell?

  • clearly marked with the words 'DANGER RADIOACTIVE' as well as a radiation warning symbol,

    So, everything's fine as long as Bart Simpson doesn't find it.

  • Did nobody notice that it was discovered missing on September 11th? Surely there is some crackpot reading this who should have come up with a terrorist or conspiracy theory to scare people with by now!
  • by SoupIsGood Food (1179) on Monday September 17, 2012 @03:16PM (#41365879)

    The radioactive tool's gone missing in Texas? Did they check his dad's compound in Kennebunkport?

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