Rio Tinto investigating loss of radioactive capsule between Pilbara and Perth
It emits dangerous amounts of radiation, which is equivalent to receiving 10 X-rays in an hour.
DFES advice on what to do if you spot the capsule Stay at least 5 meters away. Do not touch it. Do not put it in a bag. Do not put it in your car. Report it immediately by 13 DFES (13 33 ) to call 37).
It can cause skin burns and prolonged exposure can cause cancer. People were warned it could have unknowingly stuck in their car’s tyres.
If you have touched the material:
Seek immediate medical advice from your local health service or visit a hospital emergency department. Tell the health service or hospital that you think you have come into contact with the radioactive material.
Ivan Kempson, associate professor of biophysics at the University of South Australia, said we are all exposed to a constant level of radiation from natural materials around us and the food we eat.
“However, if someone is too close to a concentrated source of radiation, such as this capsule, for too long, it will cause problems due to radiation toxicity,” he said.
“The worst case scenario is that someone picks up the capsule, finds it curious and keeps it in a bag, which has happened overseas before.
“Hopefully the media attention will prevent that … if the capsule is lost in an isolated area it will be very unlikely to have much impact.
“Radioactive materials are very highly regulated and there are strict protocols for their handling, transport, storage and disposal. A loss of radioactive material such as this is extremely rare, but occurred in part because of the very small size of the capsule.
“The impact of radiation will be worse the closer you are, and the longer you are exposed to a concentrated source. If you’ve been near this capsule for a minute or two, there’s little cause for concern. There will be significantly reduced risk if you are more than tens of meters away.”
Dale Bailey, professor of medical imaging at the University of Sydney, said finding the capsule would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
“Radiation detectors on moving vehicles can be used to detect radiation above natural levels, but the relatively low amount of radiation in the source means that they will have to ‘sweep’ the area relatively slowly. Certainly not at 100 km/h!” he said.
“Today, any cell phone can be turned into a radiation detector by installing an app and covering the camera lens, thus enabling any potential citizen scientists to help in the search for this lost radioactive material. Anyone who detects radiation levels above the normal background should identify and seal off the potential location of the site with appropriate signs, maintain a large distance from the source and minimize the amount of time the radiation is released, and call the local EPA.
Dr Pradip Deb, senior lecturer in medical radiation at RMIT University, said Cs-137 has a half-life of about 30 years, meaning the capsule will be somewhat radioactive for the next 300 years.
Standing within a meter for an hour would receive a dose of 2 mSv, which was equivalent to an average effective dose from a computed tomography (CT) scan of the head.
He said keeping a distance from any radioactive source is the best protection.
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