Mining giant ‘sorry’ over missing radioactive capsule in Australia

A missing radioactive capsule lost somewhere between Perth and a Pilbara mine site over an area of 1,400 kilometres in Australia has triggered an urgent health warning. Emergency services have started the search for the missing radioactive capsule which is 6mm in diameter and 8mm in height.

Mining giant Rio Tinto said they are working with authorities to try to find a radioactive capsule. “We recognise this is clearly very concerning and are sorry for the alarm it has caused,” the firm told the news agency.

“As well as fully supporting the relevant authorities, we have launched our own investigation to understand how the capsule was lost in transit,” Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore chief executive Simon Trott said in a statement.

“As part of this investigation we are working closely with the contractor to better understand what went wrong in this instance,” he added.

According to the firm, on January 12, the capsule departed from its Gudai-Darri mine in Western Australia. On January 25, it was reported missing.

“Rio Tinto engaged a third-party contractor, with appropriate expertise and certification, to safely package the device in preparation for transport off-site ahead of receipt at their facility in Perth. Prior to the device leaving the site, a Geiger counter was used to confirm the presence of the capsule inside the package.”

An electrical tool for detecting and measuring radiation is called a Geiger counter. A portion of Western Australia has received a radiation notice from state officials. The tiny silver sensor capsule is about 6mm (0.24 inches) in diameter and 8mm in length.

However, exposure to trace quantities of the metal is like “receiving 10 x-rays in an hour, just to put it in context, and… the amount of natural radiation we would receive in a year, just by walking around,” said Western Australia’s chief health officer Andrew Robertson.

The state’s desert is remote and one of the least populated places in the country. Only one in five of Western Australia’s population lives outside of Perth, the state’s capital. However, officials say they are concerned that someone could pick up the capsule, not knowing what it is.

“If you have contact or have it close to you, you could either end up with skin damage, including skin burns… and if you have it long enough near you, you could cause what is called acute radiation sickness, and that will take a period of time,” Mr Robertson added.

The corporation is attempting to restore its name in Australia following criticism for demolishing revered Aboriginal rock shelters in Western Australia at the time of this incident.

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