The Missing Radioactive Capsule Was Finally Found in Australia

The tiny and dangerous object was finally found by local authorities. The mining company, responsible for the lost capsule, could face a fine to cover possible damages.

Isabel Cara

The Missing Radioactive Capsule Was Finally Found in Australia

After a frenetic search prompted by Western Australia’s emergency services, a radioactive capsule has been finally found. It was lost accidentally when it was being transported from one mine to another.

The mining company called authorities when they found out the capsule was missing from their working materials. Emergency services alerted the population right away because of the dangers any person could face if finding the capsule.

The Tiny Object That Mobilized Western Australia

Just days ago, Australian authorities alerted the population about the loss of a radioactive capsule containing Cesium-137, a highly dangerous substance even in small quantities. An emergency search was immediately prompted, and after a few days of intense activities, the tiny radioactive capsule was found along the desert highway.

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The name of the mining company wasn’t made public, but the mining giant Río Tinto has now apologized for the incident. The radioactive object is the size of a coin about 8 millimeters in size, but it contains cesium-137, which could send 10 x-ray explosions every hour.

Australia’s emergency services informed the capsule fell at some point during the last two weeks on highway 95. As soon as the mining company noticed the object was missing, it notified authorities. A search began, mainly to avoid the object being found by the population.

After days of intense activity and possible routes traced, it was finally found on the highway near Newman. It will be taken to a safe location in Perth. “This is an extraordinary outcome,” said Stephen Dawson, Minister of Emergency Services in Western Australia, during a press conference. “Emergency services have literally found a needle in a haystack.”

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Where Was the Capsule Found?

The search team, comprised of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, the Fire Department, and Australian Emergency Services, found the capsule two meters to the side of the road using a detection ping that was mounted on a vehicle. To retrieve the artifact, the team established a “danger zone” 20 meters around the site where it was found. They then put it in a container made of lead to transport it safely.

The mining company behind the loss of the capsule has not been sanctioned. Andrew Robertson, Western Australia Chief Health Officer, said they have the power to process Rio Tinto by the Radiation Safety Act, and they are “definitely” considering it.

Australian law establishes a maximum sanction for negligence in the transportation of radioactive material, with a fine of 1000 Australian dollars (707 US dollars). However, authorities are considering a change in the fine to cover future possible damages caused by Rio Tinto. “It shouldn’t have been lost, that is the first thing. And secondly, yes, that is a ridiculously low number”, said Australian Minister Anthony Albanese. “I think it is ridiculously low because no one thought that object would get lost.”

Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera