Nuclear gauge stolen from truck in Connecticut found; person in custody

BRIDGEPORT, Connecticut (WABC) -- A portable moisture-density gauge containing sealed sources of radioactive material that was stolen from a truck in Connecticut has been recovered, and police say a person is in custody.

The Bridgeport-based HAKS Material Testing Group had reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the device was stolen early on Tuesday from a technician's vehicle while it was parked. The vehicle's trunk was broken into, and chains securing the gauge in place were cut. A debit card was also taken from the vehicle, and police say it was used just before 5 a.m. at the Redbox located in the Walgreens parking lot on Park Avenue in Bridgeport.

Detectives recovered video from the Walgreens showing the suspect, which they hoped might lead to an arrest.

Later, authorities said the device was found at a pawn shop on Glenwood Avenue, and a person was taken into custody.

The device contains small amounts of cesium-137 and americium-241 and is used to make measurements by projecting the radiation from the two radioactive sources into the ground and then displaying the reflected radiation on a dial on its top.

"We still would like to recover it as soon as possible, get it back to the construction company so we can make sure everybody is safe," Bridgeport Police Captain Brian Fitzgerald said.

The gauge, which is stored in a robust transportation case, consists of a shielding container with a plunger-type handle protruding from the top. The handle is used to extend and then retract the radioactive sources from the shielded position. When not in use, the handle is normally locked, with the sources in the retracted, safely shielded position. The rectangular base of the gauge is yellow.

As long as the sources are in the shielded position, the gauge would present no hazard to the public. However, any attempt to tamper with the radioactive sources in the device could subject the person to potentially dangerous radiation exposure.

"It would take somebody with some degree of expertise from what I'm hearing from the state police and the FBI to be able to manipulate into something that is more dangerous than what it is right now," Fitzgerald said.
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