A resources giant was responsible for adequately protecting toxic materials during transit, a logistics company revealed.
An internal Rio Tinto investigation is widely expected to confirm the proponent was ultimately liable for wrapping a tiny radioactive capsule that went missing between 10 and 16 January 2023. The container was placed into storage and the capsule inside, measuring 8mm high and 6mm wide, was only reported missing on January 25.
Centurion Transport, the third-party company appointed to move a gauge part containing Caesium-137, confirmed Rio supplied all packaging for the 1400km road trip between the Newman mine site and Malaga transport depot.
“Centurion confirms that during a transport operation from the Pilbara to Perth a small radioactive capsule was dislodged from equipment contained in a crate, which was secured to the trailer of one of its road trains,” a company spokesperson told QMEB.
“The transport crate, and pallet it was secured to, was supplied by our client to transport the material. It was appropriately secured to the trailer at the point of departure and remained secured throughout the journey to its destination.”
Centurion’s website revealed the sender was responsible for purchasing transit insurance, strongly suggesting the freight was not “automatically” insured for in-transit loss.
“All packaging must be capable of being safely lifted on and off transport vehicles and being safely transported without rolling, tipping, sliding or spilling,” the company’s freight preparation policy said.
“All packaging must be capable of withstanding both metro and regional road transport. All packaging must be suitable for multiple handling movements. Freight can be unloaded and reloaded as it is consolidated and/or transhipped through regional or capital city depots.”
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) WA earlier circulated a hazardous radioactive materials warning for the Pilbara, Midwest, Gascoyne, Goldfields, Midlands and Perth regions.
DFES, the Western Australian Police Force and State Department of Health have already established an incident management team and begun searching for the item. They suspect travel vibrations caused the object to fall and slip through a bolt hole somewhere along the lengthy stretch of the Great Northern Highway. The object could have also been lodged in a tyre or removed from the scene.
“When advised by our client that the capsule was missing, Centurion worked with our client and its contractor to conduct an audit and search but was unable to locate the missing object,” a company spokesperson told QMEB.
QMEB can reveal human exposure within one metre could attract 2 milli sieverts of radiation an hour, which equates to either 10 x-ray scans or solar radiation from walking outdoors for one year. Potential symptoms include tissue burns, acute radiation sickness and even cancer.
The State Government is closely examining how the capsule became separated from the gauge and whether the Radiation Safety Act was breached. The Radiological Council could fine licence holders $1000 per offence.
Workers and the general public are urged to stay at least five metres away from the capsule, refrain from handling it and phone DFES on 133 337.