A small container eight millimeters high and six millimeters wide disappeared. A catastrophe would not have happened were it not for the fact that it was filled with a small amount of the radioactive substance Cesium-137 – the same substance found in Swedish bushmeat after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Touching it can cause serious illness, burns and cancer.
It’s easy to understand that the Western Australian state authorities and the mining company that lost the capsule are feeling nervous now.
– We realize this is very worrying and we regret the disruption it has caused, said a representative of mining giant Rio Tinto BBC.
It has not been detected for nearly two weeks
The truck carrying the capsule left the Guday Dare mine near the town of Newman on January 12. Then it was protected with a measuring device. Only much later, on January 25, it was discovered that the capsule was missing – some screws had loosened.
– We fully support the relevant authorities and have launched our own investigation into how the capsule disappeared during transportation, says Rio Tinto CEO Simon Trott in a statement.
It’s unclear how long the capsule has been missing and it’s not exactly a small area that needs to be searched. The distance between Newman and the storage facility outside Perth is 140 km. Like looking for a radioactive needle in a haystack.
Although the capsule is small, it is very powerful.
– It’s like x-raying ten times in an hour, to put it in context. The same amount of natural radiation we would receive in a year, just from walking around, says Andrew Robertson, chief of health at Western Australia.
The desert where the pod is believed to be sparsely populated, but authorities are still concerned that someone could have picked up the pod without understanding what it is.
– If you touch the capsule or are near you, it can cause skin damage, including burns. If you have it close to you long enough, it can cause what’s called acute radiation syndrome, says Andrew Robertson.
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