Western Australia on alert over missing radioactive capsule

Small Caesium-137 container was part of a gauge used in mining

An iron ore mine in Newman, Western Australia, from where the capsule was being transported to Perth. Getty
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Parts of Western Australia were under a radiation alert on Saturday after authorities said a radioactive capsule used in mining was lost as it was being taken to the state's capital, Perth.

Authorities in Australia's largest state issued the alert on Friday for a “radioactive substance risk” in several regions, including Perth.

The small, silver capsule containing Caesium-137 got lost during transport from north of Newman, a small town in the remote Kimberley region, to the north-eastern suburbs of Perth, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services said.

“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 was being carried by lorry from a mine to be stored in Perth, the state's health agency said. Newman is about 1,200km north-east of Perth.

The lorry left the site on January 12 but the capsule was not discovered missing until this week, authorities said.

The capsule was reportedly from a Rio Tinto mine. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

“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.

It was thought that the vibration of the lorry caused the gauge to fall apart and the capsule then came out of it, he said.

Updated: January 28, 2023, 6:52 AM