A tiny capsule containing radioactive material capable of causing acute radiation sickness has been lost in west of the country
Authorities in Western Australia issued an emergency health alert on Friday, warning people about a tiny capsule emitting a "reasonable" amount of radiation that has been lost in the area. The WA chief health officer, Andy Robertson, urged people to stay away from the object if they find it.
"As a source, it emits both beta rays and gamma rays. So if you have contact or have it close to you, you could either end up with skin damage, including skin burns, over a period of time," Robertson said, adding that "one of the long-term risks if exposed to a source like this is cancer."
The capsule in question is a tiny object that is six millimeters long and eight millimeters high, or smaller than Australia's ten-cent coin. It is believed to have fallen from a truck traveling along the 1,400-kilometer-long highway between a mine site near the city of Newman in the northern part of Western Australia and a depot in the northern suburb of the south-western city of Perth. The exact location where the capsule might have fallen from the vehicle is unknown.
The capsule emits an amount of radiation equivalent to ten X-rays in an hour if a person is within one meter of it. That is roughly the amount of natural radiation a person is exposed to over the course of a year. The capsule is said to have been lost on January 10.
Now, authorities are urging all motorists who traveled along the relevant highway after January 10 to check their tires in case the capsule has become lodged in one of them. Australia's Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said that the item cannot be weaponized but still urged caution.
The DFES told people to stay at least five meters away from anything that resembles the capsule and to immediately contact the service instead. It is now leading the search effort it launched together with the Health Department, the police, and some other specialists.
"The capsule remains unfound," DFES Country North chief superintendent David Gill said on Friday, adding that searching for such a tiny object in an area spanning over 1,400 kilometers does pose "challenges."