01/29/2023 11:31 am (act. 01/29/2023 11:31 am)
In Western Australia, authorities are feverishly searching for a radioactive capsule just a millimeter in size. The tiny, dangerous capsule apparently fell off a truck while being transported from a mine north of the mining town of Newman to a warehouse near the metropolis of Perth. How and where exactly did this happen on the approximately 1,400 kilometer route? Completely obscure. E: Apparently it happened in the second week of January.
According to information from the TV station ABC, the missing capsule was only noticed on January 25, when the truck was unloaded. The loss of the capsule containing the highly radioactive cesium-137, measuring just six by eight millimetres, is extremely concerning because of the very dangerous material, said Roger Cook, Deputy Prime Minister of Western Australia. The region’s health official, Andrew Robertson, issued an urgent warning over the weekend. Anyone discovering anything that looks like a tiny capsule must maintain a distance of at least five meters. The Western Australian Department of Health informed the public about the incident on Friday evening (local time).
Radioactive capsules are used in mining. In the Newman region, where shipping began, iron ore is mainly mined. The tiny radioactive capsule was part of a radiation meter commonly used to measure radioactivity in oil and gas processing plants, ABC wrote.
Fire and rescue teams combed 36 kilometers of the busy cargo route with portable radiation and metal detectors, Australian news agency AAP reported on Sunday. Authorities also used the truck’s GPS data to pinpoint the driver’s exact route and see where he stopped.
The capsule emits “a good amount of radiation,” Robertson said. Within a meter radius, that’s equivalent to ten X-rays in an hour – or the amount of natural radiation a person is exposed to in an entire year. “It emits beta and gamma rays. If you get close to it, you can get skin damage, including skin burns,” Robertson said. He posted a photo on Twitter showing that such a radioactive capsule is significantly smaller than a dime.
The Fire Brigade, Western Australia Police, Ministry of Health and experts participated in the search. Owners of vehicles traveling on the Grande Norte Highway were instructed to check the tires, according to broadcaster ABC. The capsule may have gotten stuck there and has already reached other parts of the country. Authorities warned that no one could guarantee she would be found.
The search for information from the AAP was hampered by the emergency services due to the lack of equipment. Commonwealth states and other countries were asked to provide suitable equipment for the search. Meanwhile, mining company Rio Tinto, which operates the mine, said it had hired a company specializing in radioactive transport to pack and transport the capsule “safely”. Cook said he couldn’t decide whether Rio Tinto would be held responsible for the incident.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear when exactly the tiny disappeared – it’s said to have fallen out of a truck between January 10th and 16th. Initially, it was unclear why the capsule was not securely attached.
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