October 31, 2004 in Nation/World

Radioactive device found at pawn shop

Associated Press
 

RICHMOND, Va. – A measuring device containing radioactive material was found in a coastal Virginia pawnshop Friday, almost two weeks after it was stolen from a truck while the driver shopped.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is investigating how the gauge was secured before the theft, spokesman Neil Sheehan said. “It either has to be under surveillance or has to be locked up. Neither was occurring,” he said.

Pawn shop owner Mitchell Dunbar said he paid $30 for the footlong shielding container but didn’t know what to make of it at first. He learned Friday morning from a TV news report that the device was stolen and contained radioactive material.

“The last thing I expected coming through these doors was a radioactive measuring device,” said Dunbar, whose Superior Pawn and Gun Shop is in Virginia Beach. “I’m more concerned about people bringing loaded guns into the store.”

Dunbar said he gave authorities information on the seller. The company owning the device could face NRC fines for failing to secure the device.

Richard Lawrence Danes, 34, whose last known address was in Virginia Beach, was charged Friday with one count of grand larceny, one count of larceny with intent to sell and conspiracy to commit a felony, said Norfolk police spokesman Chris Amos. All three charges are felonies, he said.

Foundation Engineering Science Inc. of Newport News reported the missing device to the NRC on Monday after confronting an employee about it, Sheehan said. The worker acknowledged the gauge disappeared from the firm’s pickup truck while he shopped at a Wal-Mart on Oct. 18.

Sheehan said a security video showed two people taking the device and driving away.

Cindy El-Awar, the company’s president, said the employee was fired.

The gauge is used in construction to measure moisture in materials or density of asphalt, soil and concrete. It does so by projecting radiation and measuring the time it takes to travel between points. Such devices are worth $8,000 to $10,000.

A handle on the container extends and retracts the radiation sources. The gauge is safe as long as the sources are in the shielded position, Sheehan said.

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