A radioactive capsule that fell off a truck in the Australian outback – sparking a radiation alert and a search of hundreds of miles of road – has been found.
Western Australia’s emergency services minister said the silver capsule, which emits the isotope Caesium-137, had been located about two meters from the roadside.
Authorities were hunting for the 6mm by 8mm capsule and retracing the truck’s 870-mile (1,400km) route with radiation-scanning gear.
The military was checking the capsule and it was due to be taken to a secure facility in Perth.
Minister Stephen Dawson called it an “extraordinary result”.
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“When you consider the scope of the research area, locating this object was a monumental challenge, the search groups have quite literally found the needle in the haystack,” he said.
The capsule was found when a vehicle with scanning equipment picked up radiation as it drove past at about 43mph (70kmh).
People had been warned of potential radiation burns, sickness, and damage to their immune and gastrointestinal systems if they came closer than five metres to the capsule.
Driving past was described as much lower risk however, similar to having an X-ray.
It was discovered far from any community and it is unlikely anyone would have been exposed to its radiation, said Western Australia‘s chief health officer Andrew Robertson.
The capsule is owned by mining firm Rio Tinto and is part of a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore.
Vibrations during transportation are believed to have caused screws and a bolt to come loose from the gauge, allowing it to fall out.
The search area was vast as the truck covered a distance longer than Britain on its journey from the Gudai-Darri mine, in the remote Kimberley region, to the Perth suburbs.
Police, the defence department and Australia’s nuclear agency were all involved after the capsule was reported missing on 25 January.
They had been scouring the state’s Great Northern Highway as well as other sections of the route used by the road train – a truck pulling multiple trailers.
Some 410 miles (660km) had been searched by Tuesday.
Rio Tinto, which gave the capsule to another company to transport, apologised for the “very concerning” incident and said it had launched its own investigation.
Authorities are doing their own probe but under 1975 state laws the fine for mishandling radioactive substances is currently only A$1,000 – and A$50 per day the offence continues.
“That figure is ridiculously low,” said Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
“But I suspect that it’s ridiculously low because people didn’t think such an item could be lost.”
Police have looked at bringing potential criminal charges but have concluded there is no case to answer.
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