A multinational mineral producer will grill those responsible for missing toxic material.
Rio Tinto recently launched an internal investigation into how certified experts lost a tiny radioactive capsule between 10 and 16 January 2023.
The “third-party” contractors allegedly transported the gauge part containing Caesium-137, between a Newman mine site and Malaga transport depot. The container was placed into storage and the capsule inside, measuring 8mm high and 6mm wide, was only reported missing on January 25.
“We are taking this incident very seriously, we recognise this is clearly very concerning and are sorry for the alarm it has caused,” Rio iron ore chief executive Simon Trott said according to the Australian Associated Press.
“As well as fully supporting the relevant authorities we have launched our own investigation to understand how the capsule was lost in transit.”
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) WA 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 a 1400km stretch of the Great Northern Highway. The object could have also been lodged in a tyre or removed from the scene.
“Predominantly a 20 metre radius, if the device was within 20 metres of us, I would pick it up right now,” DFES incident controller acting superintendent Darryl Ray said at a press conference.
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.
“People could end up developing redness of the skin and eventually burns from beta radiation. If it is kept long enough there could be more acute effects, including effects on their immune system and on their gastrointestinal system,” State Chief Health Officer Andrew Robertson said according to News Limited.
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.