Australia deploys more experts, equipment to find lost radioactive capsule

MELBOURNE, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Australian authorities on Tuesday deployed more personnel and specialized testing equipment to find a tiny radioactive capsule lost 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 – traveling 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) across Western Australia, and its loss sparked radiation across much of the country alarm.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services said on Monday it would take five days to retrace the route of the road train. On Tuesday, it said it had searched 660 kilometers so far.

The search involved a range of government agencies, including the Ministry of Defence, the police and now the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Authority and the Australian Nuclear and Science and Technology Organisation.

Authorities in Western Australia are searching for a radioactive capsule believed to have fallen from the truck that picked it up on January 12

The capsule is part of an iron ore feed density gauge that Rio Tinto Ltd (RIO.AX) commissioned specialist contractor SGS Australia to pack and unpack. The transport is then subcontracted to logistics company Centurion.

Authorities suspect vibrations from the road train loosened screws and gauge bolts before the capsule fell. The gauge was retrieved from the mine on January 1. Unpacking and inspection on December 1st. 25 when capsule loss becomes apparent.

Centurion said in a statement that the capsules fell off the device in the crate. The shipping boxes and pallets were provided by SGS, a Centurion spokesman told Reuters by phone.

SGS did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. Rio Tinto has apologized for the loss.

Road trains run from Rio’s Gudai-Darri mine in the state’s remote Kimberley region to a storage facility on the outskirts of Perth – a distance longer than the length of the UK.

Searchers are traveling north and south along the state’s Great Northern Highway and other sections of the road train journey, armed with specialized radiation detection equipment.

“Today’s delivery will further strengthen our search efforts and complement the equipment we have been using since we began the search last Thursday,” Fire and Emergency Services Incident Controller Daryl Ray said in a statement.

“The device, which detects radiation emitted by the missing space capsule, is currently being used around the Perth city and suburbs.”

The silver capsules are 6 mm in diameter and 8 mm long and contain cesium-137, which emits radiation equivalent to 10 X-rays per hour.

People have been told to keep at least five meters (16.5 feet) away if they spot it, as exposure could cause radiation burns or radiation sickness, although the risk of driving over the capsule is believed to be relatively low, similar to taking an X-ray.

Reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne and Lewis Jackson in Sydney; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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