Officials warned the public about the dangers of touching a small capsule containing radioactive material that was lost during its transportation Western part of Australia.
The round silver capsule, about a quarter of an inch in diameter and about one-third of an inch long, contained a small amount of radioactive cesium-137, a substance used inside gauges in mining operations. The Australian Department of Health has warned of the serious health consequences of the substances.
The capsule left a mine site north of the town of Newman by road on January 12, according to a statement from the Western Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) on Saturday.
He was sent to the northeastern outskirts of Perth for repairs. The package containing the capsule arrived in Perth on 16 January and was unpacked and kept in a secure radiation store.
However, when the package was opened for inspection on Wednesday, the scale was found broken with screws missing — and the capsule was not there.
Western Australian Police informed DFES and the Risk Management Agency that evening. A search is underway to find and safely contain the capsule, according to DFES Country North Director David Gill.
“The multi-agency Incident Management Team, consisting of DFES, the Department of Health, WA Police and other subject matter experts, confirms the exact route and stops made during the flight from North Newman,” it said in a statement on Friday.
He added that “the start and end of the transport journey – the mine site north of Newman and the transport depot on the north-eastern outskirts of Perth – were among the sites searched” on Thursday and Friday. “We are also combing roads and other areas in the search area.”
Emergency services have warned of the risk of radioactive material in parts of the Pilbara, Midwest Gascoigne, Goldfields Midlands and Perth Metropolitan regions.
Exposure to cesium 137 can cause radiation burns or radiation sickness. However, the risks to the general community are relatively low, officials said.
“If people see the capsule or something similar, move away from it and keep others away from it as well,” Dr. Andrew Robertson, chief health officer and chair of the Radiological Council, said in a statement Friday.
“Do not touch or pick it up. The public is asked to report it immediately by calling 13 DFES (13 33 37), and anyone who touches or comes near the material for an extended period of time is advised to seek medical attention.
“If you are too close to the material or touch it, the radiation hazard is greatly increased and can cause serious damage to your health, including causing radiation burns to the skin,” said Robertson.