Radioactive Capsule Missing for Weeks Before Anyone Noticed
A radioactive capsule was lost while it was being transported from a mine to a warehouse in the city of Perth, Australia, in early January, but officials realized that it had been missing only 15 days later.
A radioactive capsule, which vanished in Western Australia, was missing for weeks before anyone noticed, officials have finally admitted.
The capsule, measuring 6x8mm, contains a small amount of radioactive Caesium-137, which can harm one's health, and was lost during transport from a mine site in Newman to the suburbs of Perth in early January. However, officials realized that it had been lost only 15 days later.
Darryl Ray, the acting superintendent for Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services, said the capsule was placed on the pallet on 10 January at the mine site, then it was transported and arrived at the radiation service company in Malaga on 16 January.
“It was not until the 25th, late morning, when they opened it up to reveal that the device had fallen apart, was damaged in transit, and that the actual capsule was discovered missing, which is when authorities were first notified,” Ray said.
The Western Australian authorities are still looking for the capsule, with the search area around 1,400 square kilometers. People living in the search perimeter have been warned to stay away from the capsule if they happen to see it.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said the capsule could not be used as a weapon, but could cause radiation burns and cause long-term risks - such as cancer.
“We have continued the search on strategic sites along the route that the vehicle had taken, concentrating on sites close to high-population areas within the metropolitan suburbs,” Ray said. “The search involves the use of radiation survey meters to detect the radiation levels which will help us locate the small device."
Authorities have asked anyone who sees the capsule to call the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and seek emergency medical attention if they suspect they have come into contact with it.
“People could end up developing redness of the skin and eventually burns of the skin from the beta radiation,” Western Australia's chief health officer Andrew Robertson said. “If it were kept long enough and they were exposed long enough, they could also have some acute effects, including impacts on their immune system and the gastrointestinal system.”
He explained that the capsule was “most dangerous if handled or is close to the body".
“If you are further than five meters away from the source - certainly if you are more than 20 meters away from the source - it will pose no danger to you,” he said. “If it is closer than that - and we strongly discourage people from picking it up - certainly don’t put it in your pocket or put it in your car. Don’t put it on your sideboard, it will continue to radiate."