Missing pea-size radioactive capsule found in Australian Outback

It was like looking for a needle in a haystack – if the needle was a pea-sized radioactive capsule, and the haystack was 870 miles of road in the Australian outback.

Authorities in Western Australia announced Wednesday that they have recovered a missing, small but potentially deadly device that fell from a truck on an outback highway last month.

Search crews spent six days scouring the entire length of the highway, where it went missing while being transported by a contractor for mining giant Rio Tinto.

The missing capsule was discovered south of the mining town of Newman on the Great Northern Highway. It was detected by a search vehicle driving at a speed of 43 mph when specialist equipment, including radiation survey meters, picked up the radiation emitted by the device.

Portable search equipment was used to locate him six and a half feet from the side of the road.

This photo shows the small radioactive capsule, which fell off a truck after it was recovered near Newman, Australia on Wednesday.
Fire and Emergency Department

A provided photo, taken on Friday, January 27, 2023, of a small round and silver capsule containing radioactive cesium-137.
The capsule measures 0.31 inches x 0.24 inches and emits a level of radiation equivalent to receiving 10 X-rays in an hour.
Via Reuters

“This is an extraordinary result … they have literally found a needle in a haystack,” Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said.

Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson said it appeared the capsule did not move and no one was injured.

It contains a cesium-137 ceramic source, commonly used in radiation gauges, which emits dangerous amounts of radiation, equivalent to receiving 10 x-rays in an hour. It can cause skin burns, and prolonged exposure can cause cancer.

Handout images show vehicles near the site where the capsule was recovered on Wednesday.
Search crews used special equipment to detect radiation emitted by the lost capsule.
Fire and Emergency Department

The capsule measures just 0.31 inches x 0.24 inches, and drivers in the region are warned that it could inadvertently get stuck in their car tires.

An official investigation into how the capsule fell off the truck has been launched and a report will be provided to the Health Minister.

Defense officials were confirming the identity of the capsule, which has been kept in a lead container for safety. It will be stored in a secure location in Newman before being taken to a health facility in Perth.

This handout from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services of Western Australia taken and received on 1 February 2023 shows the location where the radioactive capsule was found.
Officials said that the silver capsule did not move after falling from the truck.
Fire and Emergency Department

The capsule was part of a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore feed being transported between the remote Pilbara region of Rio Tinto’s Godai-Dari mine and Perth on January 10.

The truck carrying the gauge with the capsule arrived at a depot in Perth on 16 January. When it was opened for inspection on January 25, the gauge was found to be broken, with one of the four mounting bolts missing and screws missing from the gauge. .

Authorities suspect the truck’s vibration loosened screws and bolts, and the radioactive capsule from the gauge fell out of the package and then out of a gap in the truck.

Services personnel are seen searching for radioactive capsules from the Rio Tinto mine.
The radioactive capsule was found 6.5 feet from the edge of the Great Northern Highway in Western Australia.
Via Reuters

Emergency services were notified of the missing capsule last Wednesday, prompting a massive search covering an area roughly equivalent to the distance from Washington, D.C. to Orlando.

Simon Trott, chief executive of Rio Tinto Iron and Steel, apologized for the incident and expressed gratitude for the discovery.

“A pretty incredible recovery when you think about the distances involved, and the remoteness of the terrain, and I think it really speaks to the strength of all these people,” Trott said. does who were involved in the search.”

“The simple fact is that this device should never have gone to waste. We are sorry that this has happened and we are sorry for the concern this has caused in the West Australian community,” Trott added.

Robertson said an investigation into the incident could lead to a lawsuit.

“We have the ability to litigate under the Radiation Safety Act and we will certainly look at cases like this, and we have in the past,” Robertson said.

Members of the incident management team coordinate the search for the radioactive capsule.
Members of the incident management team coordinate the search for the radioactive capsule.
Via Reuters

Prime Minister Anthony Albany said the $708 fine for mishandling radioactive material was an insufficient maximum fine.

He shouldn’t have lost it, that’s the first thing. And secondly, yes of course the number is ridiculously low,” Albani said.

Dawson said the state government was reviewing penalties under the Radiation Safety Act.

With post wires

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