MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian authorities on Tuesday sent more personnel and specialized detection equipment to search for a small radioactive capsule missing somewhere in the outback, including a team from the country’s nuclear safety agency.
The capsule is believed to have fallen from a road train — a lorry with multiple trailers — that traveled 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) in Western Australia, and its loss has sent a radioactive alert to large parts of the vast state.
The Fire and Emergency Services Department said Monday that it would take five days to adjust the road train’s route. On Tuesday, it said 660 kilometers had been searched so far.
The hunt involves a slew of government agencies including the Department of Defence, the police and now the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency and the Australian Nuclear Technology and Science Organization.
The capsule was part of a scale used to measure the density of iron ore feed entrusted to Rio Tinto Ltd (RIO.AX) For specialist contractor SGS Australia packing and unpacking. Then the transportation was subcontracted to the logistics company Centurion.
Authorities suspect that the road train’s vibrations caused screws and bolts to loosen from the gauge, and then the capsule fell off. The gauge was picked up from the mine site on January 12th and offloaded for inspection on January 25th when the loss of the capsule became apparent.
Centurion said in a statement that the capsule was ejected from equipment in a box. A Centurion spokesperson told Reuters by phone that the transfer box and transfer platform were provided by SGS.
SGS did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. Ryo apologized for the loss.
The road train traveled from Rio’s Juday Dare mine in the state’s remote Kimberley region to a storage facility on the outskirts of Perth – a distance longer than the length of Great Britain.
Search crews travel north and south along the state’s Great Northern Highway as well as other parts of the train journey using specialized radiation detection equipment.
“Today’s delivery will enhance our search efforts and complement the equipment we have been using since the search began last Thursday,” Darrell Ray, Incident Controller for the Fire and Emergency Services Department, said in a statement.
“The equipment can detect radiation from the missing capsule and is currently being used around and around the Perth metropolitan area.”
The silver capsule, 6 mm in diameter and 8 mm long, contains cesium-137 which emits radiation equal to 10 x-rays per hour.
People have been told to stay at least five meters (16.5 feet) away if spotted because exposure could cause radiation burns or radiation sickness, although driving behind the capsule is thought to be relatively low risk, as is taking an X-ray.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne and Louis Jackson in Sydney; Editing by Edwina Gibbs
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