Australian authorities are looking for a tiny capsule containing radioactive material that disappeared during transport, and they are urging anyone who finds it to keep their distance.
The round silver capsule – measuring about a quarter inch in diameter by a third of an inch high – poses a radioactive substance hazard to the Pilbara, Midwest Gascoyne, Goldfields-Midlands and Perth areas, officials said.
“Exposure to this substance could cause radiation burns or serious illness – if people see the capsule or anything that looks like it, stay away and keep others away as well,” said Dr Andrew Robertson, Director of Health and Radiological Council of Western Australia. president, said in a statement.
Inside the capsule is a small amount of radioactive cesium-137, which is used in mining operations.
Authorities said the capsule could not be used to make a weapon, but could cause health problems, such as radiation burns to the skin.
According to the State Department of Fire and Emergency Services, the capsule was packed on January 10 for transport by road and the cargo arrived in Perth on January 16.
But when the gauge it was part of was unpacked for inspection on January 25, workers discovered the gauge had broken and the capsule was missing.
The capsule is owned by mining company Rio Tinto, which said in a statement it was sorry for the alarm caused by the missing piece.
The company said it hired a third-party contractor to package the device and was working with that company to determine what was wrong. Rio Tinto said it had also carried out radiological surveys of the areas where the device had been and of the roads inside and outside the Gudai-Darri mine site.
The over 700 mile route from Perth to Newman is now the subject of massive research. Western Australian government officials and radiation specialists are slowly scouring the Great Northern Highway in search of the capsule about as wide as a pencil eraser.
Authorities are warning anyone who may encounter the capsule to stay at least 16 feet away from it and not touch it, but instead call the fire and emergency services.