Australia's nuclear safety agency has joined the search for a tiny capsule containing radioactive material, about the third of the size of a dime, believed to have fallen from a truck during a journey equivalent to driving the entire length of Great Britain. Large sections of Western Australia are under radiation alerts as authorities continue to search for the silver capsule, a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore feed, which contains Caesium-137, per NBC News. It likely fell from a truck during transport from Rio Tinto's Gudai-Darri mine, north of Newman, to a storage facility outside Perth. The 870-mile trip began Jan. 12 and ended Jan. 16, though the capsule wasn't discovered missing until Wednesday.
"Upon opening the package [on Jan. 25], it was found that the gauge was broken apart with one of the four mounting bolts missing and the source itself and all screws on the gauge also missing," the Department of Fire and Emergency Services says, per CNN. The capsule, measuring 6mm by 8mm, is thought to have shaken loose, then fallen from the truck. "There are fears that it may have already been carried further from the search zone, creating a radioactive health risk for anyone who comes across it for potentially the next 300 years," per CNN. Rio Tinto, which organized the transport of the device by a contractor, apologized Monday. DFES said it would take roughly five days to search the entire route. About 410 miles had been covered as of Tuesday, per Reuters.
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency is now assisting in the search, which already involves radiation services specialists and detection equipment from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization. The Department of Defense is also assisting along with police, per Reuters. Anyone who finds the capsule is asked to keep a distance of at least 16.5 feet. Otherwise, they could face radiation burns and sickness. Those exposed over long periods could face cancer risks. According to Radiation Services WA, standing within a few feet of the capsule for an hour would deliver the same amount of radiation as 17 standard chest X-rays, per CNN. (Read more Australia stories.)