Relief in Australia: After a large-scale search, experts in the west of the country found a radioactive capsule that had fallen off the truck. Response teams from the Radiation Protection Agency and the Fire Service discovered the tiny but very dangerous capsule south of the mining town of Newman in the outback, ABC reported on Wednesday, citing the Western Australian state government. "I would like to stress that this is an exceptional result," said the regional minister for emergency services, Stephen Dawson. "The search parties literally found a needle in a haystack."
The mini-casing containing the highly radioactive caesium-137 fell off a truck while being transported from a mine north of the mining town of Newman to a depot near the city of Perth. The incident occurred sometime after January 12th. It was not noticed until January 25, when the truck was unloaded, that the capsule was missing. At times it was feared she might have become stuck in the profile of a passing vehicle on the Great Northern Highway. However, according to fire department spokesman Darren Klemm, she was found two meters off the road.
A special detector on a search vehicle indicated the radiation. The capsule has been secured in a lead container and is scheduled to be stored overnight in a secure location in Newman. On Thursday, she will be transported to a facility run by the Ministry of Health, where she will be examined for any damage.
Radioactive capsules are used in mining. Iron ore is mainly mined in the Newman region. The British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto had apologized for the incident. The corporation operates the Gudai Darri mine, from where the capsule was transported. Rio Tinto says it hired a third party with the expertise and certification to securely package the capsule, which is smaller than a dime.
"It baffles me how something like that could fall from the back of a truck," Secretary Dawson said earlier. Investigations into the process are ongoing. It is assumed that a bolt came loose in the container due to the vibrations while driving and the mini sleeve fell through the bolt hole. It is considered unlikely that there will be legal proceedings. The government of Western Australia is currently trying to clarify how the expensive and time-consuming search should be paid for.
For days, the authorities had repeatedly asked people to keep a distance of at least five meters if they discovered the silver housing. The radiation could have burned the skin and, with prolonged exposure, also caused cancer.