MELBOURNE: Australian authorities on Tuesday sent out more personnel and specialised detection equipment to search for a tiny radioactive capsule missing somewhere in the outback, including a team from the country’s nuclear safety agency.
The capsule is believed to have fallen from a road train — a truck with multiple trailers — that made a 1,400 km journey in Western Australia and its loss has triggered a radiation alert for large parts of the vast state.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services said on Monday that it would take five days to retrace the road train’s route. On Tuesday, it said that 660 km had been searched so far.
The hunt involves a slew of government agencies including the Department of Defence, the police and now the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency and the Australian Nuclear and Science Technology Organisation.
The capsule was part of a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore feed that had been entrusted by Rio Tinto Ltd to specialist contractor SGS Australia for packaging and unpackaging. Transport was then subcontracted out to logistics firm Centurion.
Authorities suspect vibrations from the road train caused the screws and a bolt from the gauge to come loose, and then the capsule fell out. The gauge was picked up from the mine site on Jan 12 and was unpacked for inspection on Jan 25 when the loss of the capsule became evident. Centurion said in a statement that the capsule was dislodged from equipment contained in a crate. The transport crate and pallet were supplied by SGS, a Centurion spokesperson said.
SGS did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Rio has apologised for the loss.
The road train travelled from Rio’s Gudai-Darri mine in the state’s remote Kimberley region to a storage facility in the suburbs of Perth — a distance longer than the length of Great Britain.
Search crews are travelling north and south along the state’s Great Northern Highway as well as other sections of the road train’s journey with specialised radiation detection equipment.
Published in Dawn, February 1st, 2023
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