Australian nuclear body joins hunt for missing radioactive capsule
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Members of Australia’s nuclear safety agency joined the search for a tiny but highly radioactive capsule on Tuesday after it was misplaced in transit earlier this month on a stretch longer than the length of Great Britain, sending Western Australia under a radiation alert has.
Crews from the top nuclear security agency are now helping in the hunt with specialized car-mounted and portable tracking equipment.
Officials from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency said they were working with the Western Australian government to find the capsule.
In addition, radiation services specialists from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization also joined the search operation along with detection and imaging equipment, the agency said.
“It will take approximately five days to travel the original route, an estimated 1400km, with crews traveling north and south along the Great Northern Highway,” said Darryl Ray, the acting superintendent for Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services. , said late Monday.
A new warning has also been issued to motorists along Australia’s longest highway to take care when approaching the search, state emergency officials said on Tuesday as they warned local residents about vehicles carrying radiation detectors traveling at slow speeds in the area.
The capsule was inside a truck traveling from the desert Gudai-Darri mine site north of Newman to a storage facility in Perth.
The cesium-137 ceramic source, commonly used in radiation meters, emits dangerous amounts of radiation, equivalent to receiving 10 X-rays in an hour.
The radioactive silver capsule, 6 mm in diameter and 8 mm long, can cause skin burns and prolonged exposure can cause cancer.
The small Caesium-137 capsule was reported missing more than two weeks after it was transported from the mine site. The lorry said to be carrying the capsule arrived at a Perth depot on 16 January, after which emergency services were notified of the missing capsule on 25 January.
Officials said it was likely that the vibrations from the truck caused the screws and the bolts holding the meter together to loosen, causing the capsule to fall out of the package and then out of a gap in the truck.
The mining corporation responsible for transporting the capsule apologized “for the alarm” and said it “takes this incident very seriously”.
Simon Trott, the firm’s iron ore division head, said: “We have completed radiological surveys of all areas on the site where the device was, and surveyed roads within the mine site.”
He added that Rio Tinto was conducting its own investigation into how the loss occurred.