Plutonium stolen from Northampton school during refit

Northampton School for Girls.
Northampton School for Girls.

A top Northampton school has been at the centre of a radioactive scare, one of a handful of UK-wide incidents in which dangerous materials have gone missing from hospitals, businesses and colleges over the past decade.

The findings emerged in a Freedom of Information request to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) asking how many “dangerously radioactive” sources, ones that “would make you ill if picked up”, had been lost, mislaid, poorly tracked or stolen in the past 10 years.

It revealed Northampton School for Girls, in Spinney Hill Road, was one of six schools identified following the theft of school demonstration materials, including plutonium. The theft happened during a PFI-funded refurbishment at the site in August 2008. At the time of the theft the materials were the responsibility of Amey Facilities Management which was in charge of on site security.

A spokesman from Northamptonshire County Council said: “The materials went missing in August 2008 during a school refurbishment. They were stored in a metal cabinet and it appears the cabinet was stolen as part of a wider theft of scrap metal from the site. The incident was reported to police and the correct procedures were followed with both the HSE and the Environment Agency both being informed. Following a health and safety investigation, it was agreed to review the procedures for the movement of radioactive sources, particularly when schools are being moved or closed.”

The stolen haul consisted of four school demonstration radioactive sources: 37 kBq (kilobecquerel) strontium-90; 3.7 kBq plutonium-239; 185 kBq radium-226; 185 kBq cobalt-60).

All are radioactive isotopes, with plutonium-239 used in the production of nuclear weapons.

Of the 30 incidents, several were at universities, while others included Rolls-Royce in Derby, the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria and the Royal Free Hospital in London.