A silver capsule containing a dangerous amount of radioactive cesium-137 has been found in the outback of Western Australia following a widespread search along Highway 95. Mining company Rio Tinto has issued an apology for the loss of the coin-sized capsule, which fell from a truck and was being transported from the Gudai-Darri mine site to Perth. Earlier Radioactive Danger Alert Was Issued as Capsule Containing Caesium-137 Goes Missing in Australia.
The capsule was located near the town of Newman and will be taken to a secure facility in Perth. The search team, made up of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services, found the capsule through a ping picked up by truck-mounted radiation detection equipment. They have established a “hot zone” around the device and will transport it in a lead container.
Cesium-137 is a radioactive isotope with a half-life of 30 years, making the cesium inside the capsule dangerous for the next century. If someone were to stand a meter away from the capsule for an hour, they would receive a radiation dose of around 1 millisievert, according to Edward Obbard, a nuclear materials engineer.
Andrew Robertson, Western Australia’s Chief Health Officer, has announced that there will be an investigation into the management of the capsule by Rio Tinto. The maximum penalty for irresponsibly handling radioactive material under the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 is a fine of 1000 Australian dollars ($707), which officials are considering revising in the wake of the event.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has stated that the current fine for the loss of radioactive material is “ridiculously low” and will likely be revised for future losses.