Search Yields Missing Radioactive Material

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After a Thanksgiving Day scare, FedEx today located radioactive material that had fallen out of a box while being shipped from North Dakota to Tennessee.

The missing radioactive rods, used to calibrate hospital CT scanners, are believed to have fallen out of a box Thursday that became wet in transit from a hospital in Fargo to a company that processes the material in Knoxville.

After the federal government issued an alert and several state agencies began investigations, FedEx located the errant container that held the 10-inch, 20-pound cylinder filled with rods made of the radioactive element Germanium.

Investigators had narrowed the search to FedEx stations in Knoxville and Memphis but were initially looking for a cylinder-shaped device.

They located a box Friday afternoon in which the led cylinder was contained in Knoxville.

"The box had become separated and was set aside to try to match it to the shipper because there was no label on it," FedEx spokeswoman Sandra Munoz said. "Everything was intact and nothing had been tampered with."

The package contained three of the lead cylinders used to transport radioactive materials called "pigs," but only two arrived at the Knoxville company.

FedEx said it routinely ships small amounts of radioactive material, which adhere to state and federal guidelines.

"FedEx has experience transporting this material," Munoz said. "We adhere to all the regulations."

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the government agency tasked with regulating civilian and commercial use of nuclear material, sent an incident report to federal agents at the FBI and Department of Homeland Security Thursday.

The NRC said the report was a standard procedure, but would not be conducting an investigation because North Dakota and Tennessee were "agreement states" which regulate materials on their own and license companies to handle nuclear material.

Both companies involved in the shipping were licensees, NRC said, but FedEx is not.

An NRC official described the amount of material, 684 megabecquerels, as "a very small amount" and "nothing that would pose threat to public health or safety."

However, said the NRC's David McIntyre, "if someone were to take it apart or swallow it, that would be a bad idea."

"Sources like this get shipped an awful lot, he said, "it's rare that something goes [astray]."