Dangerous missing radioactive capsule found in Australia | Mining News
Emergency services say they “literally found a needle in a haystack” after nearly a week of searching.
Australian authorities say they have found a dangerous radioactive capsule lost on a 1,400 km (870 miles) stretch of motorway in Australia’s outback region, an Ambulance Service official said.
After nearly a week of searching, the emergency services announced in a press conference on Wednesday that the military were verifying the pod – which was found on the side of the road just outside Newman – and would be moving it to a secure facility in Perth.
“When you consider the scope of the research area, locating this object was a monumental challenge, the search parties literally found a needle in a haystack,” said Ambulance Minister Stephen Dawson.
The radioactive silver capsule, 6 mm (0.24 in) wide and 8 mm (0.31 in) long, was part of a gauge used to determine the density of iron ore feed from Rio Tinto’s Gudai Darri mine in the remote Kimberley region of the state.
The ore was shipped to a plant in the Perth suburbs, a distance longer than the length of Britain. Authorities suspect vibrations from the bumpy road, loosened screws and a bolt on the gauge that caused the capsule to fall out.
The gauge was collected from the mine site on January 12 and unpacked for inspection on January 25 when the loss of the capsule was discovered.
Officials from Western Australia’s Emergency Department, defense agencies, radiation specialists and others have since scoured the stretch of motorway for the tiny capsule.
Officials said the cesium-137 contained emits radiation at a rate of 10 X-rays per hour, but it was unlikely that contamination would occur in the area.
People were told to stay at least five meters (16.5 feet) from the capsule if they spotted it, as exposure could result in radiation burns or radiation sickness, although driving by is believed to pose relatively little risk , similar to the X-ray.
Police had attempted to press charges over the lost capsule but decided there was no case to answer.
“We approached this from an investigative perspective to see if there was any criminal activity involved. We’ve pretty much established that’s not the case,” Commissioner Col Blanch told reporters on Tuesday.
Mining giant Rio Tinto apologized in a statement Monday and said it took the incident “very seriously”.
“We recognize that this is clearly a matter of great concern and apologize for the alarm it has caused in the Western Australian community,” said Simon Trott, head of Rio Tinto’s iron ore division.
Australian authorities are considering tightening radioactive material handling laws, which critics say are inadequate.
The penalty for unsafe handling of radioactive substances is A$1,000 ($707) and A$50 ($35) per day the offense continues, under state legislation 1975.
“The current fines system is unacceptably low,” Health Secretary Amber-Jade Sanderson said at the news conference. “We are examining how we can increase this.”