A TEENAGER was being questioned by police last night after triggering a radioactive alert.

The community of Port Clarence, near Billingham, Teesside, was sealed off and residents urged to stay indoors after radioactive equipment was stolen from a van.

Every vehicle passing through the area was stopped and searched for a dangerous package containing a radioactive iodine destined for Middlesbrough's James Cook Hospital.

The two toxic capsules contained in a cardboard box, within a lead container, were being carried in a van that was broken into while it was parked in Port Clarence.

The driver alerted Cleveland Police when he discovered the break-in and what had been stolen.

He told police he had seen several teenagers hanging about near the van.

Between 30 and 40 police officers were drafted into the village to find the culprits, seal off roads and search vehicles.

Detective Superintendent John Kelly said: "We immediately deployed officers, who swiftly identified the youth responsible."

He said his officers had carried out excellent work and, acting very swiftly on intelligence they had been given, identified the youth responsible very quickly.

The teenager told police he had dumped the package in an allotment - from where it was recovered intact.

Experts from Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station, Cleveland Fire Brigade and the health service were consulted, the danger being that, if removed by an amateur from the container, the iodine would prove highly toxic with possibly fatal results.

The iodine is used in the treatment of thyroid cancer.