Australia Searches for Missing Tiny Capsule Containing Dangerous Radioactive Material
In Western Australia, a 1,400-kilometer search is underway for a small capsule containing a radioactive substance. It would have disappeared during transport. When touched, the capsule can cause severe illness and residents are advised to keep the necessary distance.
In mid-January, the capsule was lost somewhere between a mining site in Newman and northeast Perth, covering a distance of 1,400 kilometres. It is a capsule whose shell contains a small amount of radioactive caesium-137. According to the authorities, it was routine transport, but the truck’s vibrations could have caused the particle to become detached. As a result, it would have fallen out of the packaging and ended up on the road through an opening in the truck.
An experienced company was engaged for the transport. They now apologize for losing the capsule. “We take this incident very seriously. We recognize this is deeply troubling, and we are sorry for the unrest this has caused in the Western Australian community.”
Cesium-137 is a substance commonly used in mining and can cause radiation burns. In the long term, it can provoke cancer. “Our concern is that someone picks it up without knowing what it is,” said Andrew Robertson, head of the Western Australia health service and chairman of the Radiological Council. “They might think it’s something interesting and then keep it or pass it on,” he fears.
The place where the transport started and ended is now being searched. It also analyzes the route, and all truck stops to narrow the search area. According to the authorities, it is not an “impossible” task. Although it is still referred to as a “needle in a haystack”.
The Australian National University’s Department of Nuclear Physics & Accelerator Applications is involved in the search and works with radiation detectors. “That’s like dangling a magnet over the haystack. Then you have a better chance,” says Andrew Stuchbery of the university. “If the source happens to be in the middle of the road, you might be in luck.
It’s quite radioactive, so if you get close to it, you’ll notice it,” he says. “From what I’ve read, the risk is equivalent to an X-ray if you drive past it. But if you stand next to it or handle it, it can be hazardous.” The authorities recommend keeping a distance of at least five meters.