Editor’s note: The stolen cobalt-60 was found the afternoon of December 4. Click here to read more.
When thievery is discussed in the resource sector, it’s usually diamonds that have been stolen or oil that has been pirated. This week, however, two men stole a cargo truck carrying cobalt-60, a radioactive cobalt isotope, from a gas station in Mexico.
The truck was moving medical equipment used for radiation therapy from a hospital in Tijuana to a nuclear waste storage facility when the men, armed with a gun, took control of it at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, CBC News reported.
It is unclear whether the thieves only wanted the truck or were after the potentially dangerous cobalt-60, though thus far the former seems more likely. The New York Times quotes an anonymous United States military official as saying that there is no “indication at all this was terror related — just simple vehicle theft. It was used medical-grade material on its way to a disposal site, so would have already decayed to the point that it would not be useful for a weapon even if it did fall into terrorist hands.”
Nevertheless, some are concerned that the men knew exactly what they were stealing and will use the cobalt-60 to make a “dirty bomb” — in other words, a bomb that uses conventional explosives to “disperse radiation from a radioactive source,” as per CBC News. Though such bombs are not a huge threat — they are viewed as having “more potential to terrorize than cause large loss of life” — they can certainly be harmful.
Mexican authorities are currently searching for the material, and have received offers of assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency and other organizations.
Though cobalt is outperforming its fellow specialty alloys, that doesn’t mean it is “immune to the bearish sentiment currently pervading” the sector, Metal-Pages said in a recent report.
That comment was reflected in the metal’s price movement during November. For instance, while Chambishi 99.8-percent grade material was selling for between $14.31 and $14.68 per pound at the beginning of the month, by November 21, it was priced at $14.06 to $14.43 per pound, as per Metal-Pages. One trader in Eastern China explained to the news outlet that “[t]rading is fairly slow with consumers living off stocks before the year-end.”
Similarly, midway through the month, cobalt 99.3 percent softened from $12.20 to $13 per pound to $11.50 to $12.25 per pound, later sinking to $11.25 to $12 per pound at the beginning of December.
A power transformer blow out has left Eurasian Natural Resources’ (LSE:ENRC) Zambia-based Chambishi cobalt operation running at 50-percent capacity, Metal Bulletin reported as November drew to a close. The company later came forward to say that the issue will not affect the movement of cobalt concentrate from its Boss mining project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Junior company news
At the beginning of November, Global Cobalt (TSXV:GCO) completed the initial phase of confirmation drilling at its Karakul cobalt project, located in Russia’s Altai Republic. In total, seven diamond drill holes were completed.
Paul Sarjeant, the company’s vice president of exploration and the drill program’s supervisor, commented, “[t]he initial drill intersects appear to visually identify mineralization as hoped and confirm the location of the zones identified in the historic Soviet era drilling. We are looking forward to receiving assay results.”
Later in the month, on November 20, Global Cobalt mobilized a third core drill rig at Karakul, noting that in doing so it hopes to provide assay result more quickly.
The next day, Formation Metals (TSX:FCO) provided a corporate update and review, commenting that since deciding in May to defer the underground development of its Idaho cobalt project, it has been focusing on “maintaining the project in good standing with the various permitting agencies to ensure the retention of all development and mining permits.”
Formation describes itself as currently being “debt free with a strong cash position and greatly reduced monthly expenditures,” and said it is pursuing opportunities with the potential to yield cash in the near term.
Securities Disclosure: I, Charlotte McLeod, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.