Radioactive Rod Missing In Texas Desert

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Efforts to trace a potentially lethal radioactive device have been stepped up in the Texas desert, a week after the rod was reported lost.

The americium-241/beryllium rod, which formed part of equipment used to detect gas and oil deposits, was being transported between oil wells on a truck by the services firm Halliburton (NYSE: HAL - news) when it went missing.

The 130-mile route the vehicle took has been searched using special detection equipment by teams on the ground and in the air, while the truck has been stripped down.

The seven inch-long stainless steel cylinder is about an inch in diameter and marked with the radiation-warning symbol and “do not handle” warning.

The public have been warned to keep well away if they spot it, although it would apparently have to be held for some days to cause health problems.

Halliburton, which was a contractor used by BP on the Macondo well ahead of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, has told authorities that workers reported a lock on the container used to transport the device and the container itself missing on September 11 after the truck had been driven to an oil well near Odessa from a site near Pecos.

The lock was later found in a storage compartment in the back of the vehicle.

The FBI has cleared the three-man crew responsible for its security of any criminal involvement and a National Guard team has been assisting the search.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC (BSE: NRC.BO - news) ) said it is being advised on progress by the state of Texas.

The NRC states: "It could possibly - although it is unlikely - be fatal to be close to this amount of unshielded radioactive material for a period of days to weeks."

Halliburton has offered a reward for information leading to the rod's recovery but has advised anyone who comes across it to keep at least "20 to 25 feet".

While officials have seeemingly ruled out the prospect of criminal activity, experts suggest the rod could be dangerous in the wrong hands - though the americium-241/beryllium rod is not listed among the most serious radioactive categories.