MELBOURNE, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Australia’s nuclear safety agency said on Tuesday it had joined the search for a tiny radioactive capsule that went missing somewhere in the outback, sending a team with special vehicle-mounted and portable detection equipment.
Authorities have now been searching for a week for the capsule, which is believed to have fallen from a truck that traveled about 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) in Western Australia. The damage triggered radiation warnings for large parts of the vast kingdom.
The capsule, part of a gauge used to measure the concentration of iron ore feed, was commissioned by Rio Tinto Limited. (RIO.AX) To a specialist contractor for transport. Rio apologized Monday for the loss, which occurred over the past two weeks.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency said it was working with the Western Australian government to locate the capsule. It added that the Australian Atomic Science and Technology Agency had sent radiation service experts as well as detection and imaging equipment.
The truck traveled north of Newman, a small town in the remote Kimberley region, to a storage facility in the northeastern suburbs of Perth – a distance longer than the length of Great Britain.
State emergency officials on Tuesday issued a new warning to motorists along Australia’s longest highway to take care when approaching search teams, as vehicles carrying radiation detectors were traveling at slower speeds.
“It will take approximately five days to travel the original route of approximately 1400 kilometers, with crews traveling north and south along the Great Northern Highway,” Fire and Emergency Services Department Controller Darryl Ray said in a statement late Monday.
The gauge was lifted from Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Dari mine site on January 12. When it was packed for inspection on January 25, the gauge was broken, one of the four mounting bolts was missing and the screws were also missing from the gauge. .
Authorities suspect that vibration from the truck loosened the screw and bolt and caused the capsule to fall out of the package and then through a gap in the truck.
The silver capsule, 6 millimeters (mm) in diameter and 8 mm long, contains cesium-137 that emits radiation equivalent to 10 X-rays per hour.
People have been told to stay at least five meters (16.5 feet) away because exposure could cause radiation burns or radiation sickness, although experts said driving past the capsule would be relatively less risky, like taking an X-ray.
Reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Edwina Gibbs
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