By Ahmed Rasheed
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Radioactive material that went missing in Iraq has been found dumped near a petrol station in the southern town of Zubair, officials said on Sunday, ending speculation it could be acquired by Islamic State and used as a weapon.
The officials told Reuters the material, stored in a protective case the size of a laptop computer, was undamaged and there were no concerns about radiation.
Reuters reported last week that Iraq had been searching for the material since it was stolen in November from a storage facility belonging to U.S. oilfield services company Weatherford near the southern city of Basra.
It was not immediately clear how the device, owned by Swiss inspections group SGS, ended up in Zubair, around 15 km (9 miles) southwest of Basra.
"A passer-by found the radioactive device dumped in Zubair and immediately informed security forces which went with a special radiation prevention team and retrieved the device," the chief of the security panel within Basra provincial council, Jabbar al-Saidi, told Reuters.
"After initial checking I can confirm the device is intact 100 percent and there is absolutely no concern of radiation."
A security official close to the investigation said it had been established soon after the material was stolen that it was being kept in Zubair and controls had been tightened to prevent it being taken out of the town.
"After failing to take it out of the town, the perpetrators decided to dump it," the security official said. "I assure you it is only a matter of time before we arrest those who stole the radioactive device."
The material, which uses gamma rays to test flaws in materials used for oil and gas pipelines in a process called industrial gamma radiography, is owned by Istanbul-based SGS Turkey, according to the document and officials.
The material is classed as a Category 2 radioactive source by the IAEA, meaning that if not managed properly it could cause permanent injury to a person in close proximity to it for minutes or hours, and could be fatal to someone exposed for a period of hours to days.
SGS and Weatherford have both denied responsibility for the disappearance of the material last year.
(Additional reporting by Aref Mohammed in Basra; Writing by Isabel Coles; editing by Susan Thomas and Digby Lidstone)