Australian mining company loses radioactive device, nuclear agency joins outback search
Australian authorities have deployed more personnel and specialized equipment as they continue searching for a small radioactive capsule that fell off a truck somewhere in the Outback.
“Today’s delivery will further boost our search efforts and complement the equipment we have been using since the search started last Thursday,” Darryl Ray, incident controller for the fire and emergency services department, said in a statement.
“The equipment can detect radiation emitted by the missing capsule and is currently being used around the Perth metropolitan area and outskirts.”
The Western Australia Department of Fire and Emergency Services (WADFES) announced a radiation alert for large parts of the state, which remains in effect while the search continues.
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The 8 millimeter-long capsule contains Caesium-137, which emits radiation equal to 10 x-rays per hour. The capsule was part of a gauge that measures iron ore density that belonged to Rio Tinto Ltd, a specialist contractor for packaging.
The WADFES raised concerns that the device could have ended up lodged in a passing car’s tire tread or that someone might find the device and keep it as a souvenir.
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Rio Tinto issued an apology for the incident, saying it was sorry for the alarm it has caused, the BBC reported. The company has faced a number of controversies, including a 2020 incident in which workers destroyed 46,000-year-old rock shelters in order to expand an iron ore mine, sparking major outcry and forcing several executives to resign from their positions.
The search teams speculate that vibrations from the roadway may have caused screws and a bolt from the gauge to loosen, allowing the capsule to fall out.
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The truck, part of a “road train,” was making an 870-mile journey through Western Australia on Monday, and safety services have scoured more than 400 miles of terrain in search of the capsule.
The Department of Defense and local police have joined with the Australian Radiation Protect and Nuclear Safety Agency and Australian Nuclear and Science Technology Organization in trying to locate the device.
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The agencies advise that anyone who finds the capsule stay at least 16 feet away from it as exposure could cause radiation burns or sickness.
Reuters contributed to this report.