Radioactive capsule found after frantic roadside search in WA


Emergency services have found a tiny radioactive capsule near Newman, WA, ending a large-scale interagency search for the missing object.

The operation, led by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES), spanned 1400km from the outback to metropolitan Perth over seven days.

The tiny capsule – 8mm high by 6mm – was part of a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore feed from Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine in the state’s remote Kimberley region.

It was located two-metres off the northbound roadside edge of Great Northern Highway at 11am (WST) on Wednesday, February 1.

It was discovered by a vehicle search crew which was using specialised radiation equipment.

The capsule was safely recovered and securely transported in a lead container to Newman for secure storage before being taken to a WA Health facility in Perth.

Fire and Emergency Services commissioner Darren Klemm commended the efforts of all agencies and personnel involved in the operation.

“We have essentially found the needle in the haystack,” commissioner Klemm said.

“When you consider the challenge of finding an object smaller than a 10-cent coin along a 1400km stretch of Great Northern Highway, it is a tremendous result.

“I want to thank everyone involved in the search – we called on a large number of agencies to assist and this was a great example of working together to achieve an outstanding result.”

Western Australia’s chief health officer and chair of the Radiological Council Dr Andrew Robertson said the chances of anyone being contaminated by the source were extremely remote.

“As I have mentioned previously, to be at risk of radiation exposure you need to be close to the source for a period of time,” Dr Robertson said.

“If you were one metre away from the source for one hour, that would be the equivalent of receiving the radiation dose of 10 X-rays.

“This is a great result for the community of Western Australia.”

Big Rigs understands that an investigation will examine the handling of the gauge and capsule at the Rio Tinto mine site, the transport route taken by Centurion, and the procedures at the depot in Perth after the road train arrived on January 16.

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

Rio Tinto was willing to pay for the cost of the search if asked by the state government, iron ore division head Simon Trott told reporters.

“Of course the simple fact is this device should never have been lost,” he said. “We’re sorry that that has occurred and we’re sorry for the concern that that has caused within the Western Australian community.”

Main Roads WA told Big Rigs on Wednesday, February 1, that this was a police and WA Health matter, and was unlikely to pursue a chain of responsibility load restraint breach investigation.

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