Radioactive capsule missing in Western Australia, search continues

Radioactive capsule missing in Western Australia, search continues
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Officials have warned the public about the risks of touching a small capsule of radioactive material lost in transit. Western Australia.

A silver, round capsule about a quarter of an inch in diameter and about a third high contains a small amount of radioactive Cesium-137. The Australian Department of Health has warned of serious health consequences of the material.

The capsule left the minefield north of Newman by land on January 12, Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said in a statement on Saturday.

It was sent to the North-East region Perth for repair. The package containing the capsule arrived in Perth on January 16 and was unloaded and stored in a secure radiation storage facility.

However, when the package was opened for inspection on Wednesday, it was found to be broken due to missing measuring screws – and the capsule was missing.

Western Australian police alerted DFES and the Disaster Management Agency that evening. According to DFES Country North chief superintendent David Gill, a search is underway to locate and secure the capsule.

“A multi-agency Incident Management Team comprising DFES, Department of Health, WA Police and other subject matter experts is confirming the exact route and stops made during the journey north of Newman,” he said.

“The start and end of the transport journey – a mining site north of Newman and a transport depot around Perth’s north-east – were among the locations searched,” he said. “We’re also connecting roads and other areas in the search area.”

Emergency services have warned of the risk of radioactive material in parts of the Pilbara, Midwest Gascoyne, Goldfields-Midlands and Perth Metropolitan regions.

Exposure to cesium-137 can cause radiation burns or radiation sickness. However, the risk to the general public is relatively low, officials said.

“If people see the capsule or anything like that, stay away from it and keep others away from it,” said Dr. Andrew Robertson, chief health officer and chairman of the Radiology Board, said in a statement on Friday.

“Don’t touch it and don’t take it. The public is asked to report this immediately by calling 13 DFES (13 33 37),” he added, advising anyone who has been in contact with or touching the material for a long time to seek medical attention.

“If you are too close to or touch the material, the risk of radiation is greatly increased and can cause serious damage to your health, including radiation burns to the skin,” Robertson said.

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