Rio Tinto issues apology for losing radioactive capsule in Western Australia
Mining giant Rio Tinto apologized on Monday (January 30) after a tiny radioactive capsule was lost, sparking panic and a radiation alert across parts of the state of Western Australia. The loss of the device is believed to have occurred up to two weeks ago.
Authorities launched an emergency search for the device. The device is believed to be about the size of a pea and could be located along the 1,400 km route.
The radioactive capsule is said to have been lost after apparently falling from a truck. News agencies reported that the device was part of the gauge used to measure the density of iron ore feed. The responsibility for the transport was given to a specialist contractor.
Simon Trott, who is Rio’s head of iron ore, said in a statement: “We take this incident very seriously. We recognize it is clearly very concerning and are sorry for the alarm it has caused in the Western Australian community.”
The task of locating the device is nearly impossible as the search area is massive—from north of Newman to a storage facility in Perth’s northeastern suburbs. Still, the authorities are confident they will find it soon.
Andrew Stuchbery, who runs the Department of Nuclear Physics and Accelerator Applications at the Australian National University, said the task was “not impossible” as seekers are equipped with radiation detectors
He said, “It’s like hanging a magnet over a haystack, it will give you more of a chance.”
He went on to add, “If the source just happened to be in the middle of the road, you might be lucky… It’s pretty radioactive, so if you get close to it, it will stick out.”
How was the radioactive capsule lost?
This year on January 12, the meter was picked up from Rio’s Gudai-Darri mine site, but when it was opened for inspection on January 25, it was found disassembled.
Reports mentioned that one of four mounting bolts was missing and screws from the meter were also missing.
It is suspected that the screws and the bolt came loose due to the vibrations of the truck, and the radioactive capsule of the meter may have fallen out of the package and then out of a gap in the truck.
WATCH | Radioactive capsule lost in Western Australia along 1,400km route, authorities issue health warning
What is the device capable of doing?
The news agency Reuters reported that the silver capsule is about six millimeters in diameter and eight millimeters long. It contains Caesium-137 which emits radiation equivalent to 10 X-rays per hour.
Authorities have advised people to stay at least five meters (16.5 feet) away, as exposure could cause radiation burns or radiation sickness, though they add that the risk to the general community is relatively low.
Authorities in the region asked the resident to stay at least five meters away. The exposure can cause radiation burns or radiation sickness. However, the authorities also said that the risk to the general community is relatively low.
Stuchbery said, “From what I’ve read, if you drive past it, the risk is equivalent to an X-ray. But if you’re standing next to it or you’re handling it, it can be very dangerous.”
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