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Copper thieves making electricity infrastructure dangerous

By 11 April 2012 10

copper cable

You’d have to be pretty low to be a copper thief, but ActewAGL are warning of a new menace from the scavengers:

ActewAGL is warning people to stay well away from damaged or vandalised electrical infrastructure in order to avoid being harmed.

This warning follows a recent incident of copper theft where thieves stripped a high-voltage power pole of its copper cables. These cables are part of the built-in safety features of the electricity network. Without this copper cabling the equipment becomes unearthed, meaning that a fault on the network could cause electricity to move into anything that is touching or near the equipment.

ActewAGL General Manager Asset Management Stephen Devlin has stressed that while the electricity network is configured safely, interference by vandals and copper thieves presents serious risk to public safety.

“It’s important that people stay well away from all components of the electricity network and understand that it can be dangerous to interfere with it.

But not to fear, they’ve adopted some interesting technology to make life harder for the thieves:

ActewAGL can mark its assets with DataTrace Technology – a system that coats objects with a fine mist, invisible to the naked eye, containing molecular traces embedded with a business name and ABN. This can then be used to trace stolen items back to ActewAGL as the owner.

Stephen said, “The main reason for using this technology is to act as a deterrent in preventing future thefts.

“Our greatest concern is the potential safety risks for our staff and the public created by thieves who interfere with the network, not just the monetary loss caused by theft.”

If you see someone trespassing, vandalising or acting suspiciously near ActewAGL infrastructure including powerlines, substations and switchyards, call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or ActewAGL on 13 10 93.

Any of our vast team of experts know if the DataTrace survives a quick smelting?

[Photo by mikemol CC BY 2.0

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10 Responses to Copper thieves making electricity infrastructure dangerous
#1
sarahsarah12:56 pm, 11 Apr 12

I find this pretty interesting so a quick google turned up this:

Forensic Tracers consist of invisible pigments to establish your products identity.

•It’s your molecular signature, just like fingerprints or DNA.
•Inert, safe, long lasting and strong. The Tracers withstand explosions, fire and heat to 1,000 degrees centigrade.

Pretty cool kit.

http://www.datadotdna.com/us/brand_datatrace.php

#2
HenryBG3:01 pm, 11 Apr 12

That *is* cool.

#3
screaming banshee4:49 pm, 11 Apr 12

Building managers best check their lightening protection systems are all in order then.

#4
Diggety5:14 pm, 11 Apr 12

Did you mean smelting or melting? Smelting is probably a bit of overkill.

The journal and conference literature keeps the material composition and bonding mechanism secret, as do the MS data sheets. So, it’s a tough one, but there seems to be options.

For masking the copper from identification purposes, the only key properties DataTrace give away for rendering their material useless are its thermal and chemical instability, namely “1000degC” and “acids”.

Thermal decomposition
If the DT materials thermal limit is 1000degC- presuming this is irreversible- then there is a window of opportunity to destroy the DT, without melting the copper. However, this window is small, approximately 60degC, so you’ll need some accurate equipment and techniques to attain uniform heating of the copper, and avoid localized material deformation or DT survival.

Acid treatment
Probably your best shot is chemical etching with ferric chloride and can be purchased from electronic stores, etc. Artists use it for making ‘pretty things’ or whatever they do.

Unknowns
1. The above treatments may well render any trade of the copper uneconomical. Not sure.
2. Checking whether these techniques actually work is another problem, you will probably need to get your hands on the equipment used for identification to determine if it was a success.

But anyway, I thought theft of copper was usually by tradies on construction sites for a bit of booze funds. Doubt they’d want to go to these lengths, they’re not the mafia.

#5
wildturkeycanoe5:30 am, 12 Apr 12

The DNA technology will only be useful if the scrap merchants use the bluelight to spot the markings. How many of them would be up to speed with this? Needless to say, when the insulation is stripped off the copper, there would be no security markings anyway.
Bring the price of copper down so it isn’t worth stealing and you might win the battle I reckon.

#6
Gnaty779:28 am, 12 Apr 12

Hmmm yes, seems they’ll even stoop as low as to steel the copper downpipes from our office building….

#7
HenryBG9:54 am, 12 Apr 12

Gnaty77 said :

Hmmm yes, seems they’ll even stoop as low as to steel the copper downpipes from our office building….

Copper downpipes?
Where do you work – Chartres Cathedral?

#8
Gnaty7711:30 am, 12 Apr 12

HenryBG said :

Gnaty77 said :

Hmmm yes, seems they’ll even stoop as low as to steel the copper downpipes from our office building….

Copper downpipes?
Where do you work – Chartres Cathedral?

John Gorton Building, Parkes – the plastic ones just don’t look as good….

#9
Disinformation11:36 am, 12 Apr 12

screaming banshee said :

Building managers best check their lightening protection systems are all in order then.

Is that a system for preventing weight loss due to heavy copper theft?

#10
Diggety10:54 pm, 05 Jun 12

Results are in: ferric chloride works quite well.

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