Radioactive Capsule Goes Missing In Western Australia
During transportation from a mine in Western Australia, a small radioactive capsule with the potential to cause harsh skin burns went missing.
Hazardous material experts are searching for the 8mm by 6mm capsule, which is believed to have fallen from a truck as it was traveling the 1,400km between a mine site north of Newman in the Pilbara and a depot in Perth.
At an emergency press conference on Friday, the WA chief health officer, Andy Robertson, said the capsule, which is only 6mm by 8mm, emits a “reasonable” amount of radiation.
“Our concern is that someone will pick it up, not knowing what it is,” he said. “They may think it is something interesting and keep it, or keep it in their room, keep it in their car, or give it to someone.
“Obviously we feel that it is important that we warn the community that if they do come across this source, they need to take great care.”
Radioactive gauges are often used in the mining industry. Health authorities said the amount of radiation exposure was comparable to receiving 10 X-rays in the space of an hour.
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“One of the long-term risks of exposure to a source like this is cancer,” Robertson said. “That’s obviously a long-term risk.
“As a source, it emits both beta rays and gamma rays. So if you have contact or have it close to you, you could either end up with skin damage, including skin burns, over a period of time.
“If you have it long enough near you, it could cause what’s known as acute radiation sickness.
“We are recommending people not be close to it or hang on to it.”
Robertson said the capsule was understood to have fallen from a truck during the 1,400km journey after vibrations worked loose a bolt, and the capsule fell through the bolt hole.
Emergency services were notified of the missing capsule on Wednesday.
The Department of Emergency and Fire Services issued a health alert on Friday saying there was “radioactive substance risk in parts of the Pilbara, Midwest Gascoyne, Goldfields-Midlands and Perth Metropolitan regions”.
DFES country north chief superintendent David Gill said areas around the mine site, north of Newman, and the transport depot had unsuccessfully been searched.
Drivers who usually traveled along the Great Northern Highway between Newman and Perth have been asked to check their tyres just in case the capsule had become stuck to them.