Authorities in Western Australia on Wednesday recovered a small but dangerous radioactive capsule that fell from a truck during transport along a 1,400-kilometer highway last month. Officials said it was like finding a needle in a haystack.
A pea-sized capsule was found south of Newman on the Great Northern Highway, officials said. When special equipment picked up the radiation emitted from the capsule, it was detected by a search vehicle traveling at 70 km/h.
A portable search device was then used to locate 2 meters away from the side of the road.
Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said: “This is an extraordinary result…we literally found a needle in the haystack.”
Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson said the capsule did not appear to move and no injuries were reported.
It contains a cesium-137 ceramic source commonly used in radiation meters, emitting dangerous amounts of radiation equivalent to receiving 10 x-rays an hour. It can cause skin burns and prolonged exposure can cause cancer.
The search party searched the length of the highway for six days.
The capsule measures 8mm x 6mm and warned that it could have been unknowingly stuck in a car tire.
Lost in transit from mine site to Perth
A government investigation has been launched into how the capsule fell off the truck and will be reported to the Minister of Health.
Defense officials had identified the capsules, which were encased in lead for safety. It will be kept in Newman’s safe before being transported to a medical facility in the city of Perth.
The capsule was lost in transit between a desert mining site and Perth on 10 January. The truck carrying the capsules arrived at the Perth depot on January 16th. On January 25, emergency services were notified of the missing capsule.
Simon Trott, chief executive of mining giant Rio Tinto Iron Ore, apologized for the incident.