Australian mining company
PERTH, Australia (AP) — A mining company has apologized for losing a highly radioactive capsule over a 1,400-kilometer (870 miles) stretch of Western Australia as authorities traveled parts of the road in search of the tiny but dangerous substance.
The capsule was part of a device that reportedly fell from a lorry as it was being transported between a desert mine site and the city of Perth on January 10.
The truck carrying the capsule arrived at a Perth depot on January 16. Emergency services were notified of the missing capsule on January 25.
Western Australia’s emergency services have appealed to other Australian states and the federal government to help them find the capsule as they are short of equipment. The capsule measures 8 millimeters by 6 millimeters (0.31 inches by 0.24 inches), and people have been warned that it could have unknowingly become lodged in their car’s tires.
The cesium-137 ceramic source, commonly used in radiation gauges, emits dangerous amounts of radiation, equivalent to receiving 10 x-rays in one hour. It could cause skin burns and prolonged exposure could cause cancer.
Chief executive of mining giant Rio Tinto Iron Ore, Simon Trott, said on Sunday the company takes the incident very seriously and apologized for causing public concern.
“We recognize this is clearly very concerning and are sorry for the alarm this has caused in the Western Australian community,” Trott said. “In addition to fully supporting the relevant authorities, we have launched our own investigation to understand how the capsule was lost in transit.”
The search involved people scanning radiation levels from the device along roads used by trucks, with authorities saying the entire 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) route may need to be searched.
The Western Australian Fire and Emergency Services Department publicly announced the capsule was missing on Friday, two days after it was notified by Rio Tinto.
Trott said the contractor was qualified to transport the device and was confirmed on board the truck by a Geiger counter before leaving the mine.
Police have determined the incident was an accident and no criminal charges are likely.