PERTH, Australia (AP) — Authorities in Western Australia on Wednesday recovered a tiny but dangerous radioactive capsule that fell from a truck while being transported along a 1,400-kilometer (870-mile) outback highway last month, according to reports It was a needle in a haystack for an official like Fund.
Officials said the pea-sized pod was found south of the mining town of Newman on the Great Northern Highway. It was spotted by a search vehicle traveling at 70 kilometers (43 miles) per hour as special equipment picked up the radiation emitted by the capsule.
Then, portable search equipment was used to locate it 2 meters (6.5 ft) from the roadside.
“This is an extraordinary result…they literally found a needle in a haystack,” said Emergencies Secretary Stephen Dawson.
Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson said the capsule did not appear to have moved and no injuries were reported.
It contains the cesium-137 ceramic source commonly used in radiation detectors, which emits dangerous levels of radiation equivalent to receiving 10 x-rays in one hour. It can cause skin burns and prolonged exposure can cause cancer.
Search parties had spent six days searching the entire length of the highway.
The pod measures 8 millimeters by 6 millimeters (0.31 in by 0.24 in), and people have been warned it may have unknowingly become lodged in their car’s tires.
A government inquiry has been launched into how the capsule fell off the truck and a report will be made to the Secretary of Health.
Defense officials verified the capsule’s identification, which was placed in a lead container for security reasons. It will be stored in a secure location in Newman before being transported to a healthcare facility in the city of Perth.
The capsule was lost while being transported between a desert mine and Perth on January 10. The truck transporting the capsule arrived at a Perth depot on January 16. Emergency services were notified of the missing capsule on January 25.
Mining giant Rio Tinto Iron Ore CEO Simon Trott has apologized for the incident and thanked the find.
“Pretty incredible recovery considering the distances and also the remoteness of the terrain and I think that really speaks to the tenacity of everyone involved in the search,” Trott said.
“The simple fact is that this device should never have been lost. We are sorry that this has happened and regret the concern this has caused in the Western Australian community,” added Trott.
Robertson said the investigation into the mishap could lead to a criminal prosecution.
“We have the ability to prosecute under the Radiation Safety Act and we will certainly address such prosecutions and we have done so in the past,” Robertson said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said an A$1,000 (US$708) fine was an inadequate maximum penalty for mishandling radioactive materials.
“It shouldn’t have been lost, that’s the first thing. And second, yes, of course, that number is ridiculously low,” Albanese said.
Dawson said the state government is reviewing penalties under the Radiation Protection Act.
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