Radioactive capsule heads back to Perth as investigation continues

The tiny radioactive capsule which went missing in the WA outback is currently about 400 kilometres from Perth, being escorted to the city in a radiation-proof lead container by 14 Department of Fire and Emergency personnel, along with Australian Defence Force officers and the Australian Nuclear and Science Technology Organisation.

Authorities believe the capsule fell out of a bolthole in a mining gauge sometime between January 12 and January 16 while in transit to Perth from Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri iron ore mine. It was discovered on Wednesday.

However, “it wasn’t found by luck,” DFES incident controller Darryl Ray said.

It took a dedicated team of specialists from different agencies, both state and federal, working in temperatures of around 40 degrees.

WA Chief Health Officer Dr Andy Robertson said he could not reveal where the capsule would be kept once it arrived in Perth, due to safety and security concerns.

“There’s planning involved, obviously to make sure that we minimise the risks to the staff who are involved in that transfer,” Robertson said.

It would remain in secure storage until a decision was made as to how to handle the potent radiation source.

The investigation into how the capsule went missing, and whether the companies involved complied with the Radiation Safety Act and the transport regulations, was continuing.

The cost of the search for the radioactive capsule will be paid by Rio Tinto, the miner’s chief executive, iron ore said on Wednesday, but the final amount is yet to be determined.

No contamination has been detected at the site where a tiny radioactive capsule was discovered in remote WA.

The site has been surveyed and the department said there was no need to remediate the area.

A 20 metre “hot zone” was established around the capsule during its recovery.

Search crews had spent six days scouring a 1400 kilometre route amid warnings the Caesium-137 in the capsule could cause radiation burns or sickness if handled and potentially dangerous levels of radiation with prolonged exposure.

“Locating this object was a monumental challenge,” Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said.

“The search groups have quite literally found the needle in the haystack.”

The capsule was detected by a vehicle travelling at 70km/h when specialist equipment picked up emitted radiation.

Portable detectors were used to locate it two metres from the side of the road.

Rio Tinto has apologised and is also reviewing what went wrong during the haul, which was carried out by a contractor.

The maximum fine in WA for failing to safely store or transport radioactive material is just $1000.

Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson on Wednesday said the government was looking at increasing the outdated and “unacceptably low” penalty.

Rio Tinto iron ore chief executive Simon Trott said the mining giant would fully co-operate with investigations and was willing to reimburse the cost of the search.

With AAP

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