Caesium-137 capsule in Western Australia: Warning that cancer-causing radioactive capsule is lost

The authorities have sent out a radiation warning in parts of the state of Western Australia on Saturday after a tiny radioactive capsule that was transported from a mine was lost on its way to the state’s capital, Perth.

Officials said the small silver capsule containing cesium-137 was misplaced during transport from a mine north of Newman – a small town from the Kimberley region – to a storage facility in Perth’s northeastern suburbs.

An alert has been sent for a “risk of radioactive substances” in several areas, fire and emergency services said.

Newman is located approximately 1,200 km (750 miles) northeast of Perth.

Exposure to cesium-137 may increase the risk of cancer due to exposure to high-energy gamma radiation, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Internal exposure to the chemical through inhalation or ingestion causes it to spread to the body’s soft tissues, exposing them to beta particles and gamma radiation, which increases the risk of cancer, according to the CDC.

Darryl Ray, acting superintendent of fire and emergency services, said the radioactive capsule was not discovered missing by anyone until more than two weeks after it was transported from the Rio Tinto mine site.

The emergency services were notified this week, according to the authorities.

The capsule and canister were packed on a pallet at the mine site on 10 January, then reached Perth on 16 January.

It was only opened on Jan. 25 after sitting in the radiation service company for nearly 10 days, Ray said.

Officials in Western Australia have assessed that the capsule had been lost for as long as two weeks, somewhere along a 1,400km stretch of road.

– The substance is used in meters in mining. Exposure to this substance can cause radiation burns or radiation sickness, the agency said.

The capsule, if held close to the body, can cause reddening of the skin and radiation burns, Western Australia health chief Andrew Robertson said.

“If it was held long enough and they were exposed long enough, they could have some more acute effects, including affecting their immune system,” he said.

He added that it has been thought that the vibration of the truck could probably have caused the meter to disintegrate and the object to come out of it.

The capsule was from Rio Tinto Ltd, which operates the Gudai-Darri mine site north of Newman in the Pilbara region, the mining company spokesman said.

The capsule was being handled by a contractor at the time, the spokesperson said.

“Rio Tinto was informed of the missing capsule by a contractor on 25 January. The contractor, an expert in handling radioactive material, was engaged by Rio Tinto to handle and package the capsule and transport it safely off-site, the spokesperson said.

They added that the mining company regards safety as the “highest priority” and is working with the Radiological Council, the contractors involved, as well as emergency services to assist in the search.

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