By James Taylor

SACRAMENTO (CBS13)  – Thieves got more than they bargained for, and now federal agents are on alert.

Car break-ins are not new at the Oak Ridge Apartments on College Oaks Drive in Sacramento.

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“One gentleman had his back window smashed out of his van,” said apartment resident Steve Shipley.

“My wife’s car actually got broken into before,” said Diego Juarez, an apartment resident.

Last weekend a thief took off with something so dangerous that it has triggered a homeland security alert. The stolen device is called a nuclear gauge and it contains radioactive amounts of cesium 137.

If misused or tampered with, the cesium could cause serious injuries or death. The sheriff’s department responded to investigate the burglary and notified their bomb squad and the FBI about the crime.

“That is a concern,” said Shipley.

“Well, it’s sad, but in this neighborhood, it’s not surprising,” said Jean Brooks, a resident at the apartments.

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The device was stolen from a work truck belonging to Wallace-Kuhl, a local engineering firm. They say it was secured in a locked metal box bolted to the truck.

The nuclear gauge is used at construction sites where it shoots a beam of gamma rays into the soil to measure density and moisture content. Engineers say it poses no risk if left alone. But now people who live in the area are worried about being exposed to harmful radiation if it is misused.

“There’s a lot of kids that play around here, so for something to be out there like that, that’s kind of dangerous,” said Juarez.

Authorities are worried the thief may not even know how hazardous the stolen item could be.

The engineering firm is offering a reward for the return of the gauge.

 

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