Australian authorities are mounting an extensive search for a tiny radioactive capsule believed to have fallen out of a road train – a truck with multiple trailers – that travelled 1,400km in Western Australia. Here's what you need to know:
What is it?
The silver capsule is just 6mm in diameter and 8mm long and was part of a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore feed at Rio Tinto's remote Gudai-Darri mine.
How did it go missing?
The gauge, packaged by a specialist contractor, was picked up from the mine on January 12th, by a separate logistics company. When it was unpacked on January 25th, it was found broken apart, with one of its four mounting bolts as well as screws and the capsule missing.
Authorities suspect vibrations from the road train caused the gauge to break apart and the capsule fell out.
How dangerous is the capsule?
Filled with Caesium-137, it emits radiation equal to 10 X-rays an hour. Authorities have issued a radiation alert for large parts of Western Australia and if it is spotted, recommend that people stay at least five meters away as exposure could cause radiation burns or sickness.
But just driving past it is believed to be of relatively low risk.
What does the search involve?
The road train travelled from the mine in the state's remote Kimberley region and arrived at a storage facility in the suburbs of Perth on January 16th.
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. The Department of Fire and Emergency Services said on Monday it will take five days to cover the road train's route. It said on Tuesday that more than 660km had been searched so far.
The search involves at least five other government agencies including the Department of Defence, the police, the Australian Nuclear and Science Technology Organisation and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency.