Finding The Needle In A Haystack : Missing Radioactive Capsule Found !

Credit: Kilian Karger/ unsplash
  • Authorities in Western Australia say they have found a tiny radioactive capsule which went missing last month.
  • A huge search was triggered when the object was lost while being transported.
  • Authorities released a close-up picture of the pea-sized capsule.

A serial number enabled them to verify they had found the right capsule, which is 6mm (0.24 inches) in diameter and 8mm long. It contains a small quantity of Caesium-137, which could cause skin damage, burns or radiation sickness.

Apology Rendered

Mining giant Rio Tinto apologized for losing the device, which is used as a density gauge in the mining industry. A 20m “hot zone” has now been established around the capsule and it will be placed into a lead container. It will be stored at a secure location in the town of Newman overnight before being transported to a secure facility in the city of Perth on Thursday. The capsule was found when a vehicle equipped with specialist equipment, which was traveling at 70 km/h (43 mph), detected radiation, officials said.

The device is part of a density gauge, which was being used at Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine in the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia. “The simple fact is the device should never have been lost,” said the head of the company’s iron ore division, Simon Trott. He thanked the authorities for the “pretty incredible recovery” of the capsule. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told a news conference in Perth that the current fine for failing to safely handle radioactive substances is “ridiculously low”. It currently stands at A$1,000 ($700, £575) and A$50 ($35, £30) for every day that the offense continues.

Search Operation

The gauge was being transported by a subcontracted company, which picked it up from the mine site on 12 January to move it to a storage facility in the north-east suburbs of Perth. When it was unpacked for inspection on 25 January the gauge was found broken apart and the radioactive capsule was gone. One of four mounting bolts and screws were also missing.

Authorities said vibrations during transit may have caused the bolts to become loose, allowing the capsule to fall through gaps in the casing and truck. The search area for the lost capsule was huge. It is roughly equivalent to the distance by road from John O’Groats in northern Scotland to Land’s End in south-west England, or from Washington DC to Orlando, Florida.

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Source: BBC


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