How a Tiny Radioactive Capsule Was Found In Western Australia
On January 27, an urgent health warning was issued to notify the public about the risk posed by the radioactive capsule. Health authorities had a simple message to anyone who may come across it: Stay away. “It emits both beta rays and gamma rays so if you have it close to you, you could either end up with skin damage including skin burns,” the state’s Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson warned. By January 27, search parties were in full force looking for the tiny capsule. But they were not scouting for it using their eyes – they were using portable radiation survey meters. The survey meters are designed to detect radioactivity within a 20m radius. Police focused their efforts on the GPS route the truck had taken, and on sites close to Perth’s metropolitan and high-density areas. One site along the Great Northern Highway was prioritized by police on 28 January after unusual activity on a Geiger counter – a device used for measuring radioactivity – was reported by a member of public. But that search did not uncover the capsule.
The next day, additional resources requested from Australia’s federal government had been approved and those overseeing the search began planning its next phase. With the new equipment in Western Australia and ready for use by 30 January, the search ramped up. An incident controller at the state’s emergency services department, Darryl Ray, described the new tools provided by the government only as “specialized radiation detection equipment.” Local media reported that radiation portal monitors and a gamma-ray spectrometer were among the new items being used by search crews. But by the end of 31 January, the capsule continued to evade search crews.
So the next morning, when the government revealed the capsule had been found just two meters off the side of the highway at 11:13 local time Wednesday, it seemed the all-but-impossible had been achieved. “You can only imagine it’s a pretty lonely stretch of road from Newman down to Perth,” Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said at a press conference on Wednesday. “You can’t help but imagine there was an element of surprise from the people in the car when the equipment did spike up.” While hesitant to give the exact location the radioactive capsule was found, Mr Klemm described it as “the best possible outcome.” Local media reports suggest it was found some 74km from Newman – so around 200km from the mine site. No one appeared to have been injured by the capsule, according to authorities, and it did not seem to have moved from where it fell. Mr Klemm said the additional resources from the federal government proved key to finding the capsule.
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