Radioactive capsule missing in Western Australia, search underway


Officials have warned the public about the risks of touching a small capsule containing radioactive material that has been lost during transit in Western Australia.

The round, silver capsule, about 1/4 inch in diameter and about 1/3 inch high, contains a small amount of radioactive cesium-137, a substance used in gauges in mining operations. The Australian Department of Health has warned of the serious health consequences of the material.

The capsule left a minefield north of Newman town by road on January 12, according to a statement by the Western Australian Department of Fire & Emergency Services (DFES) on Saturday.

It was sent to the northeastern suburbs of Perth to fix. The package containing the capsule arrived in Perth on 16 January and was unloaded and stored in a radiation-safe warehouse.

However, when the package was opened for inspection on Wednesday, the gauge was found broken and the screw missing – and the capsule was not there.

Western Australian Police notified DFES and the Risk Management Authority later that evening. DFES Country North director David Gill said a search was underway to find the capsule and safely contain it.

“The multi-agency Incident Management Team, which includes DFES, Department of Health, WA Police and other subject matter experts, is confirming the exact route and stops in the journey from north Newman, ” he said in a statement on Friday.

“The start and end of the shipping journey – the mine north of Newman and the shipping depot in the northeastern suburbs of Perth – were among the locations sought” on Thursday and Friday, he said. more. “We are also scanning roads and other areas in the search area.”

Emergency services have warned of a radioactive hazard in areas of the Pilbara, Midwest Gascoyne, Goldfields-Midlands and Perth Metropolitan.

Exposure to cesium-137 can cause radiation burns or radiation sickness. However, the risk to the general public is relatively low, officials said.

Dr Andrew Robertson, chief medical officer and chair of the Radiological Council, said: “If people see a capsule or something that looks similar, stay away from it and others stay away from it too.

“Don’t touch or pick it up. The public is asked to report it immediately by calling 13 DFES (13 33 37),” he added, advising anyone who has touched or approached the document for an extended period of time to seek medical attention. healthcare.

“If you are very close to the material or touch it, the radiation risk is greatly increased and can cause serious damage to your health, including causing skin burns from radiation,” says Robertson. .


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