Missing radioactive capsule found in Australia

World Wednesday 01/February/2023 15:00 PM
By: DW
Missing radioactive capsule found in Australia

Sydney: The Emergency Services Ministry said on Wednesday that they had found a radioactive capsule in rural Western Australia after days of searching along a 1,400-kilometre (870-mile) stretch of road.

The tiny but extremely dangerous capsule, used for mining operations, was lost during transport over two weeks ago.

"It's a good result, as I've said it's certainly a needle in a haystack that has been found, and I think West Australians can sleep better tonight," West Australian emergencies chief Stephen Dawson said.

Dawson also praised emergency workers for overcoming "monumental challenges."

What happened to the capsule?
The capsule was part of a gauge used to measure iron ore deposits for mining giant Rio Tinto's Gudai-Darri facility in the extremely remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. It was lost while being transported to Perth by a third-party transportation company.

Officials believe that the bumpy rural roads loosened screws that had kept the capsule in place, then caused it to fall out of the truck.

Rio Tinto apologized for the incident. Chief executive Simon Trott said the company was sorry and that it was "fully supporting the relevant authorities" in the search, as well as launching its own investigation.

Call for tougher penalties
Western Australia's state minister for health, Amber-Jade Sanderson, called for tougher criminal consequences regarding the mishandling of radioactive materials.

Currently, there is a monetary of $1,000 Australian dollars (€650) for the initial offense, and then an additional AU$50 a day as long as the incident continues.

"The current fine system is unacceptably low and we are looking at how we can increase that," Sanderson said. She added that the initial investigation suggested that the loss of the capsule was the result of incompetence, not a conspiracy.

Australians had been warned to stay at least five metres (16.5 feet) away from the capsule if they saw it. Government officials said, however, that they expect the environmental damage from the incident to be minimal.