Australian mining company loses ‘highly radioactive’ small device: ‘This is very concerning and we’re sorry’

(Kitco News) Mining giant Rio Tinto Group has lost a “highly radioactive” capsule in the Australian desert where the small device could have fallen from a truck along a 1,400-kilometre (870-mile) transport route that winds through the Western Australian desert.

The authorities are looking for the capsule. The fear is that it could have settled into someone’s framework.

The hazardous substance was in a capsule that was part of a device used to measure the density of iron ore feed. The capsule may have fallen from a truck about two weeks ago during transportation.

The truck traveled from the desert mine north of Newman in the Kimberley region to the Australian city of Perth. The vehicle picked up material on January 12th and arrived in Perth on January 16th. Emergency services were only notified on January 25, when the capsule was discovered to be missing.

The capsule is so small – 8 millimeters by 6 millimeters (0.31 in by 0.24 in) that authorities have warned it could be stuck in the tires of passers-by.

The material inside is the radioactive isotope cesium-137. Exposure to it could cause radiation burns, and prolonged exposure could lead to cancer. However, the stakes for the larger community are low.

“Exposure to this substance may cause radiation burns or radiation sickness. The capsule is small (6 mm in diameter and 8 mm long), round and silvery. The risk to the general community is relatively low, however, it is important to be aware of the risks and what to do if you see the capsule “,” WA emergency said on its website.

Rio Tinto has apologized for the incident and is taking the matter seriously. “We clearly recognize that this is deeply troubling and we regret the concern it has caused in the Western Australian community,” Simon Trott, head of Rio’s iron ore division, said in a statement on Sunday. “In addition to our full support of the relevant authorities, we have launched our own investigation to understand how the capsule was lost in transit.”

Western Australian emergency services are working with other states and federal government authorities to locate the radioactive device. The incident is treated as an accident.

Finding the substance along the 870-mile route would be very difficult. In order to locate it, authorities checked radiation levels.

Reuters quoted Andrew Stochbury, head of the Department of Nuclear Physics and Accelerator Applications at the Australian National University: “It’s like if you hang a magnet over a haystack, it will give you more opportunity.” “If the source is lying in the middle of the road, you might be in luck… It’s very radioactive, so if you get close to it, it’ll stay out.”

People who think they have spotted the capsule are advised to stay at least 5 meters (16.5 ft) away, not touch it, and report it immediately. They were also told to seek immediate medical attention from their local health unit or hospital emergency room.

Less than three years ago, Rio Tinto faced heavy criticism for blowing up A 46,000-year-old Aboriginal heritage site in Australia. In May 2020, the Anglo-Australian mining giant detonated explosives near the Juukan Gorge Caves – one of the oldest known Aboriginal heritage sites in Western Australia.

Following this decision to expand the iron ore mine in western Pilbara, the company’s then CEO, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, resigned.

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