Australian authorities on Wednesday found a radioactive capsule smaller than a coin that went missing in a vast remote area after nearly a week of searching involving about 100 people along a 1,400-mile stretch of highway.
A cesium-137 capsule that went missing in transit more than two weeks ago was discovered when it picked up radiation by a vehicle traveling at 70 kilometers per hour equipped with specialized detection equipment, Western Australian state officials report.
They added that the search team then used portable detectors to find the capsule, which was located about two meters from the side of the road in an area far from any community.
The radioactive capsule was part of a scale used to measure the density of iron ore feed at the Gudai-Darri mine in Rio Tinto in the remote Kimberley region. The scale was moved to a facility on the outskirts of the state capital, Perth – a distance longer than the length of Britain.
People have been told to stay at least five meters away if they see the capsule, because exposure could cause radiation burns or radiation sickness. However, driving in the past was considered relatively low, like taking x-rays.
Western Australian Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said the discovery was an “extraordinary finding” after research involving the state’s emergency response service, defense authorities and radiologists.
“When you think about the extent of the search area, locating this object was quite a challenge, the search parties literally found the needle in the haystack,” he said.
A 20-meter exclusion zone has been established around the capsule while defense force personnel verify this via a serial number.
It will then be placed in a main container and stored overnight in a safe place in Newman, a mining town about 1,200km northwest of Perth, before being transported to the state capital on Thursday.
The silver capsule, 6 mm in diameter and 8 mm long, contains cesium-137 which emits radiation equal to 10 x-rays per hour.
The capsule appeared to have fallen from a truck during transportation and landed on the side of the road, officials said, adding that contamination was unlikely in the area.
Iron ore division head Simon Trott told reporters that Rio was willing to pay for the research if the government requested it. He added that there will be a thorough investigation into the circumstances of the loss and that the company will put in place additional controls to prevent it from happening again.
In a statement, Rio said it would investigate whether to use specialist contractors, having entrusted the scale to SGS Australia and Centurion for packaging and transportation respectively.
SGS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Centurion said in a statement that it was seeking answers about how the capsule came out of place during transport. The box and platform provided by SGS arrived in Perth in the same condition as when the flight began, and the GPS data showed no sudden changes. Quickly. .
“From a shipping and logistics perspective, this indicates routine travel, and the fact that the box was not opened for a week prior to delivery reinforces this view,” Centurion said.
There will be an investigation and prosecution under the state’s radiation protection laws since 1975, said Andrew Robertson, Western Australia’s chief health officer.
The maximum penalty for failing to handle radioactive material safely is A$1,000, A$50 per day and the offense continues, although the state government said on Wednesday it was considering amending laws to allow for harsher penalties.
Officials said any change in sanctions would not be retroactive.