Missing radioactive capsule found in Australia
A tiny but highly radioactive capsule that went missing in outback Australia was found on Wednesday after a frantic week-long search covering an 870-mile stretch of highway.
The life-threatening capsule, which is smaller than a coin and believed to have fallen from a mining company truck, was discovered on the side of the road as authorities scanned an area nearly the size of the California.
“Research groups have literally found the needle in the haystack,” Western Australia Minister for Emergency Services Stephen Dawson told a conference. press conference early Wednesday.
Hailing the success after what he described as a “monumental challenge”, Dawson said the capsule was found just outside Newman, a town in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
The radioactive device is believed to have fallen from a truck on January 10 during its long journey from a desert mining site near Newman to a storage facility in Perth.
Emergency services were first notified last Wednesday, officials said, and alerted the public last Friday.
Authorities have warned against contact with the dangerous substance and have launched a relentless hunt for the round, silver capsule, which measures 6 millimeters in diameter and 8 millimeters long.
The capsule’s radioactive source, cesium-137, emits potentially lethal amounts of radiation, nearly equivalent to receiving 10 X-rays in an hour, and prolonged exposure can even cause cancer. It takes nearly 30 years for cesium-137 to decompose by half.
Mining giant Rio Tinto Iron Ore apologized for losing the radioactive device and said it was conducting an internal investigation into how the potentially deadly and radioactive substance, which is commonly used in gauges in mining operations, was lost.
According to Dawson, after a search in outback Australia that was hampered not only by its scale but also by fires and flooding, authorities driving a vehicle fitted with specialist equipment detected radiation emitted from the capsule. .
They then used portable detection equipment to locate the capsule.
The Western Australian Fire and Emergency Services Department announced on Twitter that the capsule had been “checked and contained”.
“The Australian Defense Force is currently verifying the capsule against its serial number,” Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said at the press conference.
“A 20-meter hot zone was set up around the capsule,” he said, adding that it had been placed in a lead container to protect against radiation.
Dawson said the agencies involved in the operation are now arranging for the capsule to be safely transported and an investigation into the reasons for the loss of the capsule is underway.
“I want to stress that this is an amazing result from West Australians and Australians,” Dawson said.
Western Australia health chief Andrew Robertson said it was unlikely anyone suffered any injuries from the loss of the radioactive capsule.
“He doesn’t seem to have moved,” Robertson said at the press conference. “It appears to have fallen from the truck and landed on the side of the road. It’s far enough away that it’s not in any major community, so it’s unlikely anyone was exposed to the capsule.”
The capsule will be transported to a secure facility in the city of Perth on Thursday, officials said.