Operators warned of radioactive risk after capsule falls from truck

There is a radioactive substance risk in parts of the Pilbara, Midwest Gascoyne, Goldfields-Midlands and Perth Metropolitan regions, warns the Western Roads Federation (WRF).

The peak WA trucking body warned operators at the weekend that a tiny capsule containing a radioactive substance has been lost during transportation from north of Newman to the north-eastern suburbs of Perth.

The substance is used within gauges in mining operations. Exposure to this substance could cause radiation burns or radiation sickness.

The capsule is small (6mm diameter and 8mm tall), round and silver. Risk to the general community is relatively low, however it is important to be aware of the risks and what to do if you see the capsule, said WRF.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA issued a graphic of what the capsule looks like.

WRF told operators that if they had a vehicle that has travelled the Great Northern Highway (Perth to Newman) area since January 12, it is recommended that you:

  • Inspect the vehicle treads, and
  • Vehicle wash bays if you have them.

What to do

If you see something that could be this material:

  • Stay at least 5 metres away from it.
  • Do NOT touch it.
  • Do NOT put it in a bag.
  • Do NOT put it in your car or truck
  • Report it immediately by calling 13 DFES (13 33 37).

If you have touched the material:

  • Seek immediate medical advice from your local health service or visit a hospital emergency department.
  • Tell the health service or hospital that you think you have touched the radioactive material.

The capsule was packaged on January 10 to be sent to Perth for repair before leaving the site for transport by road between January 11-14.

The package holding the capsule arrived in Perth on January 16 and was unloaded and stored in the licensed service provider’s secure radiation store.

On January 25, the gauge was unpacked for inspection. Upon opening the package, it was found that the gauge was broken apart with one of the four mounting bolts missing and the source itself and all screws on the gauge also missing.

Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES), as the Hazard Management Agency, was notified on the evening of January 25 by WA Police, added WRF.

An investigation will examine the handling of the gauge and capsule at the Rio Tinto mine site, the transport route taken, and the procedures at the depot in Perth after it arrived on January 16.

Police have determined the incident to be an accident and said no criminal charges were likely.

On Sunday, DFES revealed it was bringing in new radiation detection equipment that could be fitted to vehicles – superseding handheld sensors – to help locate the capsule somewhere along the 1400km journey from which it originally disappeared.

DFES said the search was being concentrated on populous areas north of Perth and “strategic sites” along the Great Northern Highway.

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