Crisis Averted: Radioactive Capsule Is Found

Exposure unlikely as capsule located along lonely stretch of West Australia highway
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 1, 2023 6:01 AM CST
Updated Feb 1, 2023 7:00 AM CST
Crisis Averted: Radioactive Capsule Is Found
The capsule, found along a remote stretch of highway south of the town of Newman in Western Australia.   (Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA)

The radioactive capsule lost during an 870-mile journey through Western Australia has been located. "The search groups have quite literally found the needle in the haystack," Australia's Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said at a Wednesday news conference, per Reuters, adding the tiny silver capsule containing Caesium-137 would be taken to a secure facility in Perth on Thursday. Part of a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore feed, it fell from a truck during a multi-day transport that began Jan. 12. It was found at 11:13am local time Wednesday by officials driving along a remote stretch of highway south of Newman, CNN reports.

The vehicle was traveling more than 40mph when specialist equipment detected radiation in the area—hundreds of kilometers from Rio Tinto's Gudai-Darri mine, from which it originated, per the BBC. Individuals then used portable detection equipment to zero in on the capsule—confirmed with a serial number—just seven feet from the road. Rio Tinto iron ore boss Simon Trott said the company was "incredibly grateful" for the efforts to find the capsule. But "the fact is it should never have been lost in the first place," he said. "We are taking this incident very seriously and are undertaking a full and thorough investigation into how it happened."

Authorities previously said the pea-sized capsule was likely shaken loose during transport by a contractor before falling through its packaging. "It does not appear to have moved. It appears to have fallen off the track and landed on the side of the road," said Chief Health Officer and Chair of the Radiological Council Andrew Robertson, per CNN. He added it was "unlikely that anybody has been exposed to the capsule" in the remote area at a distance to major communities. Given the "extraordinary result … I think West Australians can sleep better tonight," said Dawson. (More Australia stories.)

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