Speed Reads

a needle in a haystack

Search is on for radioactive capsule lost in the Australian Outback

Australian mining corporation Rio Tinto lost a minuscule radioactive capsule, prompting a widescale search across Western Australia. The capsule, just 8 millimeters by 6 millimeters, is believed to have fallen off a truck somewhere in a 900-mile stretch in the Australian Outback, writes The Wall Street Journal. The truck left the company's desert mine on Jan 12. and the capsule was reported missing on Jan. 25. 

"It's believed the container it was in at the time collapsed as a result of vibrations during the trip and unfortunately that included the loss of a bolt that was holding it on and it fell through that bolt hole," said Andrew Robertson, Western Australia's chief health officer. 

The missing capsule contains Cesium-137, a radioactive isotope commonly used in radiation gauges, reports The Associated Press. It emits a radiation level equivalent to receiving 100 x-rays in one hour. If a person comes in contact with it, they can experience severe radiation sickness, skin damage, and burns. 

The incident has sparked a search through the region, though it's like finding a needle in a haystack. Authorities are using radiation-detecting equipment to quicken the search. "Our concern is that somebody will pick it up, not knowing what it is, think 'Oh, this is something interesting' and keep it…not knowing what they are actually dealing with," said Robertson.

Chief executive of Rio Tinto Simon Trott has apologized for the incident saying, "We recognize this is clearly very concerning and are sorry for the alarm it has caused in the Western Australian community," adding, "As well as fully supporting the relevant authorities, we have launched our own investigation to understand how the capsule was lost in transit."