The mystery of the missing radioactive canister

Chuck Goudie Image
Saturday, March 5, 2016
The mystery of the missing radioactive canister
An ominous looking "radioactive" canister that somehow went missing in October has just as mysteriously turned up in downstate Illinois.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- An ominous looking "radioactive" canister that somehow went missing in October has just as mysteriously turned up in downstate Illinois, a day after state officials started the process to lodge heavy fines against the company that lost it.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency says that the company, Wayne County Well Surveys, notified authorities Friday morning that a local farmer had found the metal canister in his field.

IEMA sent a staff member to Fairfield to verify the condition of the device.

"We are pleased that this device has been recovered and shows no signs of damage that could have exposed the public to unnecessary radiation," said IEMA Director James K. Joseph.

The container is part of a larger tool used to assess geological formations in oil and gas, groundwater, mineral, and geothermal exploration. It is labeled 'DOT RADIOACTIVE YELLOW II' with the radiation symbol. An inner label reads 'DANGER RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL, DO NOT HANDLE, NOTIFY CIVIL AUTHORITIES.'

Although the company indicated last fall that this device came from one of its trucks, the vehicles used appear to be enclosed. Notification that the device was missing triggered a search across 18 counties in Illinois and Indiana, but didn't find the canister.

Yesterday IEMA issued a preliminary order to Wayne County Well Survey seeking to impose penalties totaling $25,500 after the company lost the radioactive well logging container. The state agency is also seeking an additional $52,865 for costs associated with the search for the device.

While the canister was reported missing on Oct. 16, documents filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission by Wayne County Survey revealed the device had been missing for almost two months before that. The last time the device had been accounted for was June 2.

The I-Team has learned that Wayne County Well was cited a year earlier by federal transportation regulators for "insufficient tiedowns" of equipment on its vehicles. An IEMA spokesperson tells the I-Team "the DOT violations, those could be in relation to the company's handling of other hazardous materials used as part of their business."

Company officials did not respond to I-Team emails and a person who answered the phone in their downstate office said that the owner was out of town.