Cobalt-60 used in a medical device

A doctor places a core into the helmet of a Gamma Knife device used for radiation therapy. Gamma Knife devices use Cobalt-60 as a radiation source.
Image Credit: University of South Carolina Gamma Knife Center

December 5, 2013

Earlier this week, two thieves carjacked a truck carrying radioactive Cobalt-60 from a medical center to a waste storage center. After the theft, the thieves took the Cobalt-60 out of its protective casing, exposing themselves to dangerous levels of radiation. They later dumped the material in an open field, suggesting they initially may not have known what they had stolen.

For decades, Cobalt-60 has been used for radiation treatments used against various cancers. In the image above, you can see a doctor fitting a helmet used in a device that uses Cobalt-60 as a radiation source.

Such devices ionize cancerous tissue with concentrated beams of radiation, leading to the death of cancer cells. Outside of the careful oversight of physicists and doctors, however, Cobalt-60 can be incredibly dangerous. For example, experts expect the two thieves in the recent case to suffer from radiation sickness or possibly die due to their exposure.