March 30, 2023

Missing radioactive capsule found in Australia

The eight-by-six-millimeter silver capsule used in mining operations contains a radioactive substance called cesium-137. It was lost in transit

Australian authorities have found the tiny radioactive capsule, but with levels of radiation dangerous to human health, which went missing in Western Australia, Reuters reports.

The eight-by-six-millimeter silver capsule, used in mining operations, contains a radioactive substance called cesium-137 and was lost by mining giant RioTinto, sparking a massive search along a 1,400-kilometre route, according to the Minister. State Emergency Services, Stephen Dawson, at a press conference.

“Locating this object was a monumental challenge – the search teams literally found a needle in a haystack.”

The object was spotted at 11:13 am. (local time), two meters from the road south of the small town of Newman by teams using radiation detection equipment. After inspecting the capsule, the military will transfer the object to a secure facility in Perth.

“When considering the scope of the research area, locating this object was a monumental challenge, the research teams have
literally found the needle in the haystack,” Dawson said at a news conference.

The radioactive capsule was smaller than a coin (Western Australian Department of Health)

Emergency services said the capsule disappeared while being transported by truck, about 1,400 kilometers from a mine near the remote town of Newman in the northern suburbs of Perth, a city of 2.1 million people.

The radioactive capsule, which is part of the equipment used in the mining industry to measure the density of iron ore, was transported by a company certified by Rio Tinto.

Cesium-137 emits dangerous amounts of radiation, equivalent to receiving ten X-rays in one hour. The capsule can cause skin burns and prolonged exposure can cause cancer.

The truck arrived at a warehouse in Perth on January 16, but authorities were only alerted to the incident on the 25th after the company responsible for the transport reported it missing. The capsule would be missing for about two weeks.

Police determined that the disappearance was an accident and not a criminal matter.

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