Radioactive capsule missing in Australia after falling off mining truck | World News
Australian emergency services are racing against time to find a tiny but potentially deadly radioactive capsule that went missing while being transported 870 miles (1,400 km) from a mine to a warehouse in the city of Perth.
An 8mm by 6mm block, smaller than a penny, is believed to have fallen off the back of a truck on a 22-mile (35-kilometer) stretch of road in Western Australia while being transported from the Rio Tinto mine in Newman to Perth, a suburb of Malaga.
The device was lost after a screw loosened inside a large lead-lined pressure gauge and it fell through the hole. The small silver cylinder contains caesium-137, a highly radioactive isotope that experts say should not be used as a weapon.
The device emits the equivalent of 10 x-rays per hour, and people must stay at least 16 feet away from it, state officials said. Contact can result in skin damage, burns and radiation sickness, including effects on the immune system. Long-term exposure can also cause cancer.
The Fire and Emergency Department sent teams with portable radiation detection devices and metal detectors to try to find him, but the state was short of equipment and called for outside help.
Search teams are focusing their efforts on communities north of Perth and areas along the Great Northern Highway.
Superintendent Darryl Ray said: “What we’re not doing is trying to find a tiny little vision device.
“We use radiation detectors to locate gamma rays,” he said.
Authorities use the truck’s GPS data to determine the exact route the driver took and where they stopped during the trip. They are concerned that the capsule could be stuck in another car’s tire and be hundreds of miles away from the search site.
Rio Tinto hired an experienced radioactive material handler to pack the capsule and move it “safely” to a warehouse, and was not told it was missing until January 25.
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The Western Australian government waited two days to inform the public on Friday. Its chief medical officer, Andrew Robertson, defended the delay, saying the mine and warehouse needed to be searched and ruled out, and the route confirmed.
“We believe that the vibration of the truck could have affected the integrity of the sensor, that it fell apart, and the source actually came out of it,” he said. “The sensor can’t fall apart like this.”
“We’re concerned that someone will pick it up without knowing what it is, think it’s something interesting (and) keep it.”
The police determined that the incident was an accident and no criminal charges were likely to be filed as they ruled out theft from the warehouse.