Radioactive capsule dropped from truck found in Australia
Authorities in Western Australia on Wednesday recovered a small but dangerous radioactive pellet that fell from a lorry while being transported along the 1,400 km (870 mi) Outback Highway last month, which which one official said is like finding a needle in a haystack.
Officials said the pea-sized capsule was found south of the mining town of Newman on Great Northern Avenue. It was detected by a search vehicle traveling at 70 kilometers (43 miles) an hour as specialized equipment picked up the radiation emitted by the capsule.
The mobile finder was then used to locate it 2 meters (6.5 feet) from the side of the road.
Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said: “This is an extraordinary result… they literally got a needle in the bottom of a haystack.”
Chief Medical Officer Andy Robertson said the capsule did not appear to be moving and no injuries were reported.
It contains a cesium 137 ceramic source, commonly used in radiometers, which emits dangerous amounts of radiation, equivalent to receiving 10 X-rays for an hour. It can cause skin burns and prolonged exposure can cause cancer.
Search teams spent six days scouring the entire length of the highway.
The capsule measures 8 mm x 6 mm (0.31 inches x 0.24 inches) and people have been warned that it could accidentally get into their car tires.
A government investigation has been launched into what caused the capsule to fall out of the lorry and a report will be provided to the health minister.
Defense officials are verifying the identity of the capsule, which has been housed in a lead box for safety. It will be stored in a secure location in Newman before being transported to a medical facility in Perth.
The capsule went missing while being transported between a desert mine and Perth on January 10. The capsule transport truck arrived at a warehouse in Perth on January 16. Emergency services were dispatched. was informed of the missing capsule on January 25.
The CEO of iron ore mining giant Rio Tinto, Simon Trott, apologized for the incident and expressed gratitude for the discovery.
“It’s quite a rebound when you think about the distance involved, as well as the remoteness of the terrain, and I think that really speaks to the persistence of all those involved in the search,” Trott said.
“The simple fact that this device should never have been lost. We are sorry that happened and we apologize for causing concern in the Western Australian community,” Trott added.
Robertson said the investigation into the accident could lead to a prosecution.
“We have prosecution capacity under the Radiation Safety Act and we certainly will look into such prosecutions, and we have done that in the past,” Robertson said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the A$1,000 ($708) fine was the maximum penalty for the improper handling of radioactive material.
“It shouldn’t have been lost, that’s the first thing. And second, yes, of course that number is ridiculously low,” Albanese said.
Dawson said the state government is reviewing penalties under the Radiation Safety Act.
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