Australia’s nuclear safety agency announced on Tuesday that it had sent a team with specialized car-mounted and portable detection equipment to help in the search for a small radioactive capsule that had gone missing somewhere in the outback.
Authorities have been looking for the capsule for the past week, which is thought to have fallen from a truck after traveling about 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) from north of Newman, a little town in the isolated Kimberley region. It was going towards a storage facility in Perth’s northeastern suburbs. The distance was greater than the length of Great Britain and goes through Western Australia. A radiation alert was issued for most of the enormous state as a result of the loss.
Rio Tinto apologizes for the loss
Rio Tinto Ltd. had given a specialized contractor the task of transporting the capsule, which was a component of a gauge used to determine the density of iron ore input. Rio expressed regret for the loss, which occurred during the last two weeks, on Monday.
Because searchers are armed with radiation detectors, the effort, while analogous to discovering the traditional needle in a haystack, is “not impossible,” according to Andrew Stuchbery, who oversees the Australian National University’s department of Nuclear Physics & Accelerator Applications.
The Western Australian government and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency are collaborating to find the capsule, according to the agency. It was also mentioned that radiation services experts and imaging and detection tools had been deployed by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization.
On Tuesday, state emergency officials again urged drivers along Australia’s longest highway to exercise caution while approaching search crews because the cars hauling the radiation detectors are moving slowly.
Department of Fire and Emergency Services Incident Controller Darryl Ray said, “It will take approximately five days to travel the original route, an estimated 1400 kms, with crews traveling north and south along Great Northern Highway,” the statement was given late on Monday.
Radioactive capsule goes missing
On January 12, the gauge was taken from the Gudai-Darri mine site of Rio Tinto. On January 25, when it was opened for inspection, the gauge was discovered to be fractured, with one of the mounting bolts missing, as well as screws from the gauge itself.
The capsule fell out of the package and then out of a gap in the truck as a result of the screws and bolt coming loose, which the authorities believe was caused by vibrations from the vehicle.
Caesium-137, which emits radiation equivalent to 10 X-rays per hour, is housed in a silver capsule that is 6 mm in diameter and 8 mm long.
Although specialists have stated that driving past the capsule would be relatively low risk, comparable to getting an X-ray, people have been advised to keep at least five meters (16.5 feet) away because exposure could cause radiation burns or radiation sickness.