Disasters & Accidents

Australia’s nuclear safety agency joins search for radioactive capsule

Sydney, Australia, Jan 31 (EFE).- Australia’s nuclear safety agency said Tuesday that it has joined the search for the tiny radioactive capsule lost in the vast state of Western Australia.

The silver capsule, measuring 6 x 8 millimeters, contains a “small quantity of radioactive Caesium-137” used in mining operations, the Western Australia Department of Health said on Friday.

It was lost as it was being transported between Jan. 10-16 by truck along a route of some 1,400 kilometers, a distance of almost one-and-a half times the length of Great Britain.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) said it had sent “a deployment team with specialized car-mounted and portable detection equipment to support the search of the transport route” between the state capital of Perth and a Rio Tinto mine in the Pilbara region from where the truck departed.

ARPANSA said that its support for the operation is part of its “national radiation protection and emergency response capability” and is intended to “protect the community from the harmful effects of radiation.

The search is being led by the Western Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) with assistance from state and federal government authorities, including the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization, which has also sent deployment teams of radiation services specialists, as well as detection and imaging equipment.

Western Australia emergency services on Tuesday issued a new alert for motorists traveling in the area where the radioactive substance is believed to have been lost.

“DFES and radiation specialists are searching along Great Northern Highway by driving north and south directions at slow speeds. Take care when approaching and use caution when overtaking,” it said.

Health authorities said the capsule cannot be weaponized, but can cause “serious health consequences” such as radiation burns, radiation sickness and cancer.

They ask that if any suspicious material is found, people remain at least five meters away, that they do not touch it or move it, and report it to authorities “immediately.”

The capsule was packed on Jan. 10 and the vehicle arrived in Perth six days later, but it was not until the 25th that emergency services were notified after it was discovered the capsule had dislodged and fallen off the truck during the journey. EFE


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