Emergencies: Frantic search for radioactive capsule in Australia

Emergencies: Frantic search for radioactive capsule in Australia

Feverish search for radioactive capsule in Australia

A small silver capsule containing radioactive cesium-137 has been lost en route from a mine site to Perth. photo

© -/Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA via AAP/dpa

The cargo that went missing on the way to Perth is small, but it packs a punch: The amount of radiation from cesium-137 corresponds to ten X-ray treatments within a one-metre radius within one hour.

In Western Australia, authorities are frantically searching for a radioactive capsule that was lost in transit from a mining site. The capsule, which is only six by eight millimeters in size, is said to be located somewhere on a 1400-kilometer stretch between a mine north of the mining town of Newman and Malaga, a suburb of the metropolis Perth.

The region’s health officer, Andrew Robertson, issued an urgent health warning. Anyone who discovers something that looks like a tiny capsule should keep a distance of at least five meters.

The capsule emits “a fair amount of radiation,” Robertson said. Within a radius of one meter, this is about as high as ten X-rays within one hour – or the amount of natural radiation that a person is exposed to over a whole year. “It emits both beta and gamma rays. If you get close to it, you can suffer skin damage, including skin burns,” Robertson said.

He published a photo on Twitter showing that such a radioactive capsule is significantly smaller than a ten cent coin. Meanwhile, it’s not even clear when exactly the tiny one went missing – it’s said to have fallen off a truck sometime after January 10th. According to the information, vibrations caused a bolt to have loosened while driving, and the capsule then fell through the bolt hole. It was initially unclear why the capsule was not secured better.

The fire brigade, the Western Australia police, the Ministry of Health and experts participated in the search. Vehicle owners traveling on the Great Northern Highway were asked to check their tires, according to broadcaster ABC. The capsule may have got stuck there.

Radioactive capsules are used in mining. In the Newman region, where transport began, iron ore is mainly mined.



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