A DEADLY radioactive cylinder has disappeared from a power plant in a highly populated tourist hotspot, sparking a frantic drone search.
Staff at the coal-fired plant in Thailand‘s Prachinbri province noticed the 12-inch steel tube was missing during routine checks on Friday.
The public were warned that it poses serious health risks if they come into contact with it and they should alert authorities immediately.
The metal cylinder, used for measuring ash, is packed full of Caesium-137, making it dangerously radioactive.
The substance is commonly used to calibrate radiation gauges but can wreak havoc on humans who come into contact with it.
It is not clear how much Caesium-137 is inside the missing tube, which was part of a silo at the power plant 60 miles east of Bangkok.
An extensive weekend search failed to locate the radioactive cylinder, the National Power Supply Public Company said.
They believe it may have fallen from an 18 metre tall wall mount days earlier – and radiation tests at the plant show that it has been taken off the premises.
Search teams and drones have been deployed to track down the deadly device as fears continue to grow for public safety.
Officials at the Office of Atoms for Peace (OAP) revealed they were using radioactive detection equipment to help pinpoint its location.
Deputy Secretary General Pennapa Kanchana said: “We are searching in waste recycling shops in the area.
“We are (using) survey equipment to detect for signals. For areas we cannot reach, we have dispatched drones and robots.”
Teams have already trawled through scrap metal yards, junk shops and secondhand stores in nearby areas for the 25kg cylinder.
Concerned health officials warned that direct contact with radioactive material can cause skin rashes, hair loss, canker sores, fatigue, and vomiting.
They said short-term contact with Caesium-137 may not show immediate symptoms but could lead to a higher risk of cancer.
“We are asking people in the area to help find it,” Prachinburi governor said.
“The radioactive material was in a closed and protected condition, but if someone opens it and is exposed to the substance, it could cause a rash and burns.”
Thongchai Keeratihuttayakorn, director-general of the Department of Medical Services, said Caesium-137 has similar physical characteristics to salt and can disperse easily if its container is opened.
He said it is used in devices such as ones measuring humidity or the velocity of liquids.
Kittiphan Chitpentham, a representative of the National Power Supply Public Company, the power station’s owner, said it is not clear whether the cylinder had gone missing by accident.
The firm are putting up a 100,000 baht (£2,400) cash reward for anyone who can provide information as the trail grows cold.
Thai police are also heavily involved in the hunt – and suspect the radioactive cylinder has actually been missing since February.
Prachinbri is a bustling tourist hotspot thanks to housing some of Thailand’s best national parks and other attractions.
The province boasts a population of nearly half a million people and regularly welcomes daytrippers from nearby Bangkok.
The hectic search comes just weeks after a similar incident in Australia where a “tiny but potentially deadly” capsule disappeared.
The minuscule piece, the length of a grain of rice, vanished during a mammoth 870mile truck journey from a mining depot deep in the arid outback.
It reportedly fell off a truck while it was being transported to the city of Perth through a gap left by a bolt holt.
But the needle in the haystack was miraculously found on February 1 after it vanished on January 25.