Science & Tech

Australia has misplaced a potentially deadly item - and says it may never find it

Australia has misplaced a potentially deadly item - and says it may never find it
Australian authorities warn the public not to touch missing radioactive material

It’s smaller than a penny yet carries the potential to burn skin, cause cancer, or acute radiation sickness.

And it’s somewhere in Australia.

The tiny radioactive capsule came from a Rio Tinto mine and supposedly fell off a truck while being transported from Newman in Western Australia to Perth in mid-January.

It contains a small amount of cesium-137, a radioactive isotope that could be potentially dangerous. Just one hour of exposure a meter away is equivalent to having 10 X-rays. Prolonged exposure puts a person at risk of skin burns or acute radiation sickness.

Authorities alerted the public of the capsule on Friday, nearly two weeks after it was declared missing.

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“We want the public to be alert to the possibility of finding the small capsule and the risks,” David Gill, a superintendent for the Western Australian emergency services department, said.

The small capsule could be anywhere on the 1400 kilometers (879 miles) route.

State authorities have not revealed how much distance they have covered in their search for the radioactive capsule but said it will take “weeks not days” to find it.

In order to find it, the acting superintendent for Western Australia’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services said they were using radiation detectors to locate the gamma rays.

The 8 mm by 6 mm capsule emits both gamma and beta rays.

“What we are not doing is trying to find a tiny little device by eyesight,” the acting superintendent said.

Authorities have warned people to not approach the small capsule should they find it and stay at least five meters away.

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