PERTH, Australia (AP) – Authorities in Western Australia are searching for a small but potentially deadly radioactive capsule that went missing while being transported by truck from a mine to a warehouse in the city of Perth, they said on Saturday.
The emergency services said they were hampered by a lack of equipment and appealed to the Commonwealth and other countries for help.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services deployed teams with handheld radiation detectors and metal detectors along a 22-mile (36-kilometer) busy freight road to search for the 0.31 x 6 millimeter (8 x 6 millimeters) unit x 0.24 in).
The unit is believed to have fallen from the back of a truck during a 1,400-kilometer journey from the Rio Tinto mine in Newman to Malaga, a suburb of Perth.
“We’re trying to find a tiny device by sight,” Superintendent Darryl Ray said. The teams focused on populated areas in northern Perth and strategic locations along the Great Northern Highway, it added.
“We use the radiation detectors to locate gamma rays,” Ray said.
Authorities also analyzed the truck’s GPS data to determine the exact route the driver took and where he stopped after leaving the mine around January 10.
There are fears that the solid capsule has become embedded in another vehicle’s tires and may be hundreds of kilometers (miles) from the search area.
It is believed that a bolt in a lead-lined caliper loosened and the device fell through a hole.
Rio Tinto said it hired a radioactive materials handling expert to pack the capsule and transport it “safely” to storage, and it was only reported missing on Wednesday.
Health chief Andrew Robertson defended the Western Australian government’s decision to wait two days before informing the public on Friday, saying they would have to search the mine and camp to rule them out and confirm the route.