March 28, 2023

Missing radioactive capsule found in Australia – DW – 01/02/2023

After days of searching, the missing radioactive capsule has been found in Australia, the Department of Emergency Services announced on Wednesday (02/01).

The device, considered extremely dangerous, was located in a remote area of ​​the state of Western Australia after it was reported missing on January 25. A team of more than 100 people participated in the survey along a route of 1,400 kilometers.

According to authorities, portable detection equipment was used to find the capsule, which was located about 2 meters off the side of a deserted road south of Newman City.

“When you consider the scope of the search area, locating this object was a monumental challenge, the team literally found a needle in a haystack,” said Stephen Dawson, Emergency Services Minister for Western Australia. “I think the citizens of Western Australia will be able to sleep better tonight,” he added.

A 20m exclusion zone was set up around the capsule while members of the defense force verified it through a serial number.

The capsule must be placed in a lead container and stored safely in the town of Newman, about 1,200 kilometers northwest of Perth, where it is not expected to be received until Thursday.

Image shows the size of the radioactive capsule lost in Australia, comparing it to a coin
The picture shows the size of the capsulePhoto: AAP Image/Department Of Fire And Emergency Services/REUTERS

How was the capsule lost?

The radioactive capsule likely fell from the truck carrying it along a 1,400km stretch from Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine north of Newman in Perth’s Pilbara region.

The disappearance was noticed during a check on January 25. The capsule was last seen on January 12.

Authorities believe the truck’s vibrations loosened the bolts and nuts, causing the radioactive capsule in the meter to fall and slide through a gap in the vehicle.

Why is the capsule radioactive?

The six millimeter by eight millimeter silver capsule contains cesium-137, a radioactive material that emits gamma rays, highly dangerous ionizing radiation that can penetrate deep into the body. Cesium-137 was responsible for the biggest radioactive tragedy in Brazil, in 1987, in Goiânia. Many years later, those who came into contact with the substance are still experiencing the effects.

Gamma rays are the most energetic and dangerous type of ionizing radiation, which can strip electrons from the atoms of living organisms, damaging cells and DNA. The amount of radiation emitted by the capsule is 19 gigabecquerels, which is equivalent to about ten X-rays per hour.

This type of capsule is commonly used in the mining industry in iron ore density meters, which are essential for the most efficient operation of mining operations: the radiation coming from the meter is absorbed by the material in proportion to its density.

fa/lf (AFP, Reuters)

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