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Australia’s lost radioactive capsule found on the side of the road

Thailand searches for missing radioactive cylinder
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A tiny but dangerously radioactive capsule which fell off a truck along a remote stretch of outback highway in Australia last month was found on Wednesday, authorities said.

The solid, silver-coloured cylinder is smaller than a human fingernail — just eight millimetres by six millimetres — but the authorities say it contains enough Caesium-137 to cause acute radiation sickness.

It was discovered at the side of a desert highway just south of the town of Newman, Western Australia — near the desert mine it came from, the state’s emergency services commissioner Darren Klemm said.

“It’s a good result,” West Australian emergency services minister Stephen Dawson told reporters. “It’s certainly a needle in a haystack that has been found, and I think West Australians can sleep better tonight.”

Authorities had scoured hundreds of kilometres of highway in search of the tiny capsule.

The six-day hunt came to an end after a search vehicle detected radiation while travelling along the highway, with authorities now working to safely remove the capsule before taking it to a secure location, Klemm said.

Crews would then place it in a lead-lined container to shield people from its radiation before it is transported.

“In the extremely unlikely circumstance that the capsule leaked, we will remediate the area,” Klemm told the press conference in Perth.

The capsule disappeared from a truck that drove to the suburbs of Perth from a remote mine operated by Rio Tinto, 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) north of the state capital of Perth — further than the distance from Paris to Madrid.

The gauge which the capsule was a part of was originally picked up on January 12 from the Gudai-Darri iron ore mine and delivered to the Perth suburb of Malaga on January 16, Rio Tinto said previously.

But the package was not opened until January 25 when the gauge was found “broken apart” with the radioactive capsule missing. State police were informed the same day.

The resources giant earlier apologised, explaining that the radioactive capsule, part of a gauge used in the mining industry to measure the density of iron ore, was being transported by a certified contractor when it was lost.

Authorities believe the container it was in collapsed because of the vibrations during transportation before it apparently fell through the hole left by a missing bolt.

But an investigation into the incident was ongoing and would determine whether penalties would apply to the handling of the dangerous material, Western Australia Chief Health Officer Andrew Robertson said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese earlier responded to reports that those responsible for the lost pellet could only face penalties of Aus$1,000 (US$700) under current legislation.

“One, it shouldn’t have been lost. That’s the first thing and second — yeah, of course, that figure’s ridiculously low, but I suspect that it’s ridiculously low because people didn’t think that such an item would be lost.”


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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French state-owned international news agency based in Paris. It is the world's oldest news agency, having been founded in 1835 as Havas.

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