Australia: Alert in Perth after radioactive capsule goes missing – Emits as much radiation as 17 standard X-rays

Australia: Alert in Perth after radioactive capsule goes missing – Emits as much radiation as 17 standard X-rays

State authorities sounded the alarm on Friday, warning residents in Perth of the presence of a leak of radioactive material – The tiny capsule is believed to have fallen from the lorry during its transport

Australian authorities are searching for fleas in the hay as they search for an 8x6mm silver radioactive capsule, no bigger than a coin, believed to have been lost somewhere along a massive highway.

State authorities sounded the alarm on Friday (27/1), warning residents of a leak of radioactive material in a southern part of the state, including the northeastern suburbs of Perth, the state capital, home to about 2 million people.

How the capsule was lost

According to CNN, the tiny radioactive capsule is believed to have fallen from a truck transporting it from a Rio Tinto mine to a storage facility in Perth. It was part of a nuclear densitometry device used to measure the density of ore at the Gundai-Dari iron mine. Mining company Rio Tinto apologized on Monday, saying it was supporting the state government’s efforts to find the capsule, which contains caesium-137, a highly radioactive substance used in mining equipment. The company said it had checked all roads in and out of the Gudai-Darri mine in remote northwest Australia, where the capsule was located before a contractor picked it up to transport it to Perth.

Authorities believe the capsule, which emits gamma and beta rays, fell off the back of a truck carrying it. Due to its tiny size and vast distances, authorities warn that the chances of it being found are slim. There are also fears that it may have already moved further away from the search zone, posing a radioactive health hazard to anyone who encounters it for possibly the next 300 years.

According to authorities, the capsule was placed inside a package on January 10 and collected from Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine by a contractor on January 12. The vehicle spent four days on the road and arrived in Perth on 16 January. The landing took place on January 25 when it was found that the capsule had disappeared

It is believed that the strong shocks caused during its transport damaged the packaging – dislodging a fixing bolt holding it in place.

How dangerous is it?

Experts have warned that caesium-137 can cause serious health problems for people who come into contact with it: skin burns from close exposure, radiation-induced illnesses and potentially fatal cancer risks, especially for those unknowingly exposed for long periods of time. time periods.

Radiation Services WA, a radiation protection consultancy, says standing within one meter of the capsule for an hour would deliver about 1.6 millisieverts (mSv), the equivalent of about 17 standard chest X-rays.

If someone tries to touch it with bare hands, it will cause “severe damage” to the fingers and surrounding tissue, the company said in a statement.

Ivan Kempson, an associate professor of biophysics at the University of South Australia, said the worst-case scenario would be a curious child picking up the capsule and putting it in their pocket.

“This is rare, but it could happen and has happened in the past,” Kempson said. “There have been some past examples of people finding similar things and suffering from radiation poisoning, but they were much stronger than the current missing capsule.”

“We are all exposed to a constant level of radiation from the things around us and the food we eat, but the primary concern now is the potential impact on the health of the person who finds the capsule,” he said.

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