A DEADLY radioactive capsule has been lost in the Australian outback – and may never be found, authorities have warned.
The tiny capsule, which is the length of a grain of rice, vanished during a mammoth 870mile truck journey from a mining depot deep in the arid outback.
4The lengthy route is being canvassed to find the deadly capsule4The capsule could have fallen anywhere on the lengthy routeOnly 8mm by 6mm, the capsule is believed to have fallen from the haulage lorry while travelling south from a Rio Tinto mine site northwest of the remote town of Newman to the Western Australian capital Perth.
The killer radioactivity comes from a 9-gigabecquerel caesium 137 ceramic source, commonly used to calibrate radiation gauges.
Authorities have determined the exact route taken by the truck using GPS data – and it’s a distance equivalent to that from London to Budapest.
Emergency services have been scrambling to find adequate search equipment, even pleading with the Commonwealth for help.
Teams with handheld radiation detection devices and metal detectors are canvassing 22 miles per day in a desperate bid to find the deadly device.
Western Australia Radiation Services manager Lauren Steen said the situation has left her head in “a bit of a spin”.
She said: “If you were to stand one metre away, you would be receiving about the equivalent of 17 chest x-rays.”
On Sunday, Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services revealed they will roll out newer high tech sensors to help locate the small device.
What is caesium 137 and why is it sparking panic in the outback?THE deadly radioactive material is formed as a byproduct in a nuclear reactor, or nuclear weapons.
Exposure to even small amounts can cause burns, acute radiation sickness and death.
It can also increase the risk of cancer if ingested or inhaled.
The truck left the mine on January 12 and arrived in Perth on January 16 – but the capsule wasn’t discovered as missing until nine days later.
It’s believed a bolt holding the lead-lined case containing the capsule was knocked loose somewhere on the journey.
The capsule then fell through a hole left by the missing bolt, experts have speculated.
A massive search effort has been launched with teams equipped with radiation detection devices and metal detectors.
WA emergency services chief Superintendent David Gill said crews were conducting a “concerted, coordinated” search for the deadly device.
Supt Gill said: “There are challenges here. It is 1,400 kilometres between the mine site and Perth.
“There is the potential that we may not find this. That is possible.”
The capsule’s radioactive material has a half-life of 30 years, and exposure could result in severe burns.
Longer exposure can lead to also lead to radiation sickness, and a long-term increased risk of cancer.
Western Australia’s chief health officer, Andrew Robertson, said the mine and depot have been searched and cleared.
He also said the capsule was packed in accordance with the radiation safety transport, making the disappearance highly unusual.
Mr Robertson said: “It is unusual for a gauge to come apart like this one has.”
Authorities have become concerned that the miniscule capsule may have become lodged in another vehicle’s tire – making the search much more complicated.
Specialised equipment has been obtained from Australia’s federal government to search the expansive area.
Mr Robertson added: “Our concern is someone will pick it up, not knowing what it is, think this is something interesting and keep it.”
4Emergency services are asking the public to stay vigilant4Caesium-137 is usually a byproduct of nuclear reactors
Story Credit: thesun.co.uk