SUPER TINY RADIOACTIVE CAPSULE LOST IN AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK FOUND
Australia is a vast land full of rugged terrain. Home to countless species, this beautiful natural landscape makes an epic quest a challenging place to be. Last week, workers opened packages at a Rio Tinto mining yard in northern Western Australia en route to Perth by truck. The package contained pea-sized radioactive capsules used in conventional mining operations. Instead, employees found it empty on January 26th. An extensive six-day search began on an 870-mile section of the Great Northern Highway. On Wednesday, February 1, 2023, the Outback's real "needle in the haystack", a tiny capsule, was finally discovered.
Some of the details of the lost capsule seem fuzzy, but the small piece of metal is one of many radioactive materials that travel along the highway every day, and it's usually not a problem. Just 8 millimeters long and containing cesium-137, it seemed impossible to find in the vast Australian wilderness. “Locating this object was a monumental challenge—the search groups have quite literally found the needle in the haystack,” state Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said in a news conference on Wednesday.
Crews equipped with radiation detection equipment moved slowly along the side of the highway where the capsule was lost. Shortly before noon on Wednesday, a signal directed the crew to a small, slightly shattered capsule on the mud.
Here's the #radioactive #capsule in question, which was found 74kms south of Newman at 11am today. The capsule has a serial number, which has been used to verify that this is indeed the object that has been the focus of our search for the past week. https://t.co/fsCW0H88rW #WA pic.twitter.com/AkB78jqic8— DFES (@dfes_wa) February 1, 2023
Fortunately, during the six-day search, no one was exposed to radiation, said chief medical officer and Radiological Council president Andrew Robertson. The team was concerned that the capsule could end up in the wheel of a car because of the risk of prolonged contact with the same people. The capsule was able to emit harmful radiation for about 300 years, as its elements slowly decayed.
“It does not appear to have moved—it appears to have fallen off the track and landed on the side of the road. It is remote enough that it’s not in any major community so it is unlikely that anybody has been exposed to the capsule,” Robertson said. Investigations are ongoing to determine why and how the capsule was lost and to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. But here, by and large, it seems neither harmful nor bad. “This is a great result for the Western Australian community,” added Robertson.