Rio Tinto: Sorry We Lost That Radioactive Capsule

Mining giant says hunt is still on in Western Australia for tiny container with cesium 137
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 28, 2023 5:05 PM CST
Updated Jan 30, 2023 5:54 AM CST
Crews Search for Tiny, Radioactive Capsule
An iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia   (Getty/STRINGERimage)
UPDATE Jan 30, 2023 5:54 AM CST

One of the largest mining companies in the world is now apologizing for losing a teensy capsule filled with a whole lot of danger. "We recognize this is clearly very concerning and are sorry for the alarm it has caused in the Western Australian community," Simon Trott, CEO of Rio Tinto's Iron Ore division, said Sunday of the missing capsule containing cesium 137, a highly radioactive substance that can cause skin burns and, eventually, cancer, per the AP. Exposure to it would be like "receiving 10 X-rays in an hour," says Andrew Robertson, WA's health chief, per the BBC. It apparently came loose from a density gauge used in mining operations and fell off a truck during transit from a desert mine to Perth earlier this month. Officials think the capsule may have become lodged in a tire and are warning people not to pick it up or otherwise handle it if found.

Jan 28, 2023 5:05 PM CST

Somewhere in the vastness of Western Australia is a small capsule, 0.31 inches by 0.24 inches, and a frantic search is on—because it holds radioactive material. Officials think the capsule fell off a truck after being picked up at a mine site north of Newman, in the Pilbara region, on its way to a depot in Malaga, near Perth. Inside is a small amount of cesium 137, a radioactive substance that could cause harm if touched, the BBC reports. Australians have been warned not to approach the capsule if they find it.

Teams with handheld radiation detection devices and metal detectors are searching 22 miles of highway along the truck's 870-mile route, per the AP. "What we're not doing is trying to find a tiny little device by eyesight," said an emergency official. One expert said the capsule emits a "reasonable" amount of radiation. It could cause radiation burns and, eventually, cancer but can't be weaponized, he said. Officials said Saturday it was two weeks after pickup before anyone realized the capsule was missing, per the Guardian. "Our concern is that someone will pick it up, not knowing what it is," the expert said, per the BBC. "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." (More Western Australia stories.)

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