Stolen Plutonium Still Missing After More Than A Year

On March 21, 2017, a theft from a van in a Marriott hotel parking lot just off Highway 410 resulted in the loss of dangerous nuclear materials. A plastic-covered disk of plutonium and another of cesium, a highly radioactive isotope, were stolen, along with numerous devices used for detecting radiation. Now, more than a year later, the materials remain unrecovered.

The theft occurred after two security experts from the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory went to San Antonio, Texas, to retrieve radioactive materials from a nonprofit research lab. After stopping for the night at the Marriott, the experts awoke the next morning to find the window smashed on their rented Ford Expedition and the special cases holding the instruments and nuclear materials missing. Police were called and a report was taken on the incident.

Many have expressed shock that such dangerous materials were left in a vehicle in a commercial area overnight. According to a report submitted to the Energy Department, the Idaho lab claimed the Marriott parking lot was a secure location, because it had walls on two sides and security guards. However, San Antonio records show that in 2016 and 2017, the San Antonio Police Department recorded 87 thefts at the hotel and its parking lot.

More than a year later, the police still have no suspects or clues in the case. When the theft occurred, officials at the scene took as many fingerprints from the vehicle as possible, but none of the collected prints were usable. There was also no “worthwhile surveillance video” of the theft, according to San Antonio police spokesman Carlos Ortiz.

While the exact amount of radioactive material stolen in the theft is unknown, a lab spokeswoman said that the amount stolen wasn’t enough to make a weapon. According to Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, as little as 7 pounds of plutonium can produce a functioning nuclear warhead. No public announcement of the incident has been made by either the San Antonio police or by the FBI.