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No lad, you haven't stolen a hot Iridium handset. You have nicked a bar of your actual hot iridium.

Rossendale comprises a series of old industrial towns strung out along some 15 miles of a meandering valley in the Pennine hills. It's battle-scarred old place surrounded by some bleakly beautiful moorland countryside. The winters can be long and tough and Rossendale is, in places, economically and socially deprived and has more than its fair share of petty (and not so petty) crime.

Thus, last week, as is par for the course, someone in Bacup, at the eastern extremity of the Valley, broke into a vehicle and stole from it a bright yellow and black canister containing what the Lancashire Constabulary are referring to as "a small amount of radioactive material".

It seems someone smashed a window of a Peugeot van and scarpered with a foot-long bright yellow case emblazoned all over with radioactive hazard warning signs. As it is described as a "lead-lined" (actually it is more likely to be depleted uranium which is even denser than lead) the case weighs rather a lot more than the thief might have expected given its size, and that in itself might have been a clue (together with the glaring brightness of the "Danger, Radioactivity" warnings plastered all over the thing) to anyone with any sort of functioning brain.

The local police opine that the thief probably has no idea whatsoever what he or she has stolen or indeed any understanding of the basics of nuclear physics.

It is believed that the thief mistook the case holding a radioactive isotope of Iridium 192 for an exotically-packaged mobile phone of somewhat outre design -and it does look a bit Dr. Who-ish. Some even reckon that the thief thought it was an Iridium wireless global mobile handset with an immediate resale value down at the pub.

The UK's Health Protection Agency (HPA) says, "The radioactive material will not pose a risk to the public if it remains contained in its heavy lead container marked with the radiation trefoil. However, if the material is outside of its protection packaging, anyone who has come into prolonged physical contact, such as keeping it in a pocket, should seek medical assistance."

It'll be worse if some moron has been holding it up to his ear and trying to make a mobile call on a bar of gently-glowing, pleasantly warm Iridium. But then nothing would surprise me about some of the denizens of Bacup.

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