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Australian nuclear agency joins hunt for lost radioactive capsule | Nuclear Energy News

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People were told to stay away from tiny capsules containing cesium-137, which emit radiation equivalent to 10 x-rays per hour.

Australia’s Nuclear Safety Authority has joined the search for a small radioactive capsule that has gone missing somewhere in the outback, sending a team equipped with special on-board and hand-held detection equipment.

The loss of a radioactive capsule believed to have fallen from a truck traveling some 870 miles (1,400 km) across Western Australia led to a week-long search and a radiation alert for much of the state. .

On Tuesday, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Authority said it was working with the Western Australian government to locate the capsule. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Agency has also dispatched radiation service experts and detection and imaging equipment.

The capsules, which are part of the gauge used to measure the density of iron ore, were commissioned by Rio Tinto Ltd to be transported by specialized contractors. Rio apologized on Monday for losses that have occurred elsewhere in the past two weeks. This is a distance longer than the length of the UK.

Western Australia’s chief health officer, Andrew Robertson, said radioactive material is routinely transported around Western Australia under strict regulations.

“It is very rare for a source to be lost,” he said in a statement.

State emergency officials on Tuesday warned motorists along Australia’s longest highway as they approached a capsule search party as vehicles carrying radiation detectors were traveling at slow speeds along the highway. Issued a new warning to be careful

“It takes about five days to travel the estimated 1400km original route, with the crew traveling north-south along the Great Northern Highway,” said Daryl Ray, Incident Manager for the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES). said in a statement. Monday.

The capsule was recovered from Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mining site on 12 January.

Officials believe vibrations from the truck caused screws and bolts to loosen, causing the capsule to fall out of its packaging and through the cracks in the truck.

Just 6 mm (0.24 inches) wide and 8 mm (0.31 inches) long, the silver capsule contains cesium-137 that emits radiation equivalent to 10 X-rays per hour. People have been told to keep at least 5 meters (16.5 feet) apart because the exposure can cause radiation burns and radiation sickness, but experts say walking past the capsule is too much for getting an x-ray. said to be relatively low risk.

epa10440756 A photo of a handout released by the Western Australian Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) on 27 January 2023 shows the size of a small round silver capsule containing radioactive published).  A capsule containing radioactive cesium-137 went missing during transit between the Rio Tinto mining site north of Newman and northeast Perth between 10 and 16 January. A radiation survey is underway along the Outback Highway in Western Australia. EPA-EFE/Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA Handouts Editorial Use Only Australia and New Zealand OUT Handouts Editorial Use Only/Not for Sale
An image provided by the Western Australian Fire and Emergency Services Department on 27 January 2023 compares the size of a small capsule containing cesium-137 to a ten pence coin. [EPA-EFE/DFES]

Edward Obard, a senior lecturer in nuclear engineering at the University of New South Wales Sydney, said the capsule poses no danger to passers-by who don’t linger.

“If you stand one meter away for an hour, you receive a radiation dose of about 1 millisievert, which is about 1/20th of what people working with radiation are allowed to receive in a year.” ,” writes Obbard. conversation.

“If you’re 10cm closer to the capsule, it’s about 100 millisieverts per hour, and you can do a lot of damage,” he said.

According to Obard, if the capsule remains missing, it will pose a danger for “the next century or so”. am.

“Do you remember anyone?” asked Obard.

“If you come across a small cylinder in the street today, you know you should keep your distance. But what if you find it in five or twenty years?”

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