Warning as cancer-causing 6mm radioactive capsule lost in Australia

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Authorities have sounded a radiation alert in parts of the Western Australia state on Saturday after a tiny radioactive capsule being transported from a mine was lost en-route to state capital Perth.

Officials said the small silver capsule containing Caesium-137 was misplaced during transportation from a mine north of Newman – a small town from Kimberley region – to a storage facility in the northeast suburbs of Perth.

An alert has been sounded for a “radioactive substance risk” in several areas, the department of fire and emergency services said.

Newman is about 1,200km (750 miles) northeast of Perth.

Exposure to Caesium-137 can increase the risk of cancer due to exposure of high-energy gamma radiation, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Internal exposure to the chemical through inhalation or ingestion makes it spread to the body’s soft tissues and exposes them to beta particles and gamma radation, increasing the risk of cancer, according to the CDC.

Darryl Ray, the acting superintendent of the department of fire and emergency services, said the radioactive capsule wasn’t discovered missing by anyone until more than two weeks after it was transported from Rio Tinto mine site.

Emergency services were alerted this week, according to authorities.

The capsule and container were packed on a pallet on the mine site on 10 January, following which it reached Perth on 16 January.

It was only opened on 25 January after sitting at the radiation-service company for almost 10 days, Mr Ray said.

Officials in Western Australia have assessed that the capsule had been lost for as long as two weeks, somewhere on a 1,400-km-long stretch of road.

“The substance is used within gauges in mining operations. Exposure to this substance could cause radiation burns or radiation sickness,” the agency said.

The capsule, if kept close to the body, could cause skin redness and radiation burns, said western Australia chief health officer Andrew Robertson.

“If it was kept long enough and they were exposed for long enough they could have some more acute effects, including impacts on their immune system,” he said.

He added that it has been thought that the vibration of the truck could have likely caused the gauge to disintegrate and the item then came out of it.

The capsule was from Rio Tinto Ltd which operates the Gudai-Darri mine site north of Newman in the Pilbara region, the spokesperson of the mining company said.

The capsule was being handled by a contractor at the time, the spokesperson said.

“Rio Tinto was informed of the missing capsule by a contractor on 25 January. The contractor, an expert radioactive materials handler, was engaged by Rio Tinto to handle and package the capsule and transport it safely off site,” the spokesperson said.

They added that the mining company regards safety as the “highest priority” and are working with the Radiological Council, the contractors involved, as well as emergency services to assist in the search.

Source: independent.co.uk