PERTH, Australia (AP) — A mining company has apologized for the loss of a highly radioactive capsule 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) from Western Australia, as authorities combed sections of the road for a small but dangerous substance.
The capsule was part of a package that is believed to have fallen from a truck while it was being transported between a desert mine site and the city of Perth on January 10.
The truck transporting the capsule arrived at the Perth warehouse on January 16. Emergency services were notified of the missing capsule on January 25.
Western Australian emergency services called on other Australian states and the federal government to support finding the capsule because they lacked equipment. The capsule measures 8 millimeters by 6 millimeters (0.31 in by 0.24 in), and people have been warned that it could be stuck to their tires without their knowledge.
The cesium-137 ceramic source, commonly used in radiometers, emits dangerous amounts of radiation, equivalent to receiving 10 x-rays in one hour. It can cause skin burns and prolonged exposure can cause cancer.
Mining giant Rio Tinto Iron Orr CEO Simon Trott said Sunday that the company takes the incident seriously and apologized for causing public concern.
“We realize this is deeply troubling and we regret the concern it has caused in the Western Australian community,” Trott said. In addition to the full support of the relevant authorities, we launched our own investigation to understand how the capsule was lost in transit. “
The search involved people surveying radiation levels from the device along routes used by trucks, as authorities indicated the entire 1,400 km (870 mi) route might have to be searched.
The Western Australian Fire and Emergency Services department publicly declared the capsule missing on Friday, two days after Rio Tinto was notified of it.
Trott said the contractor is qualified to move the device and its presence on the truck was confirmed by a Geiger counter before leaving the mine.
The police determined that the incident was an accident and no criminal charges were likely to be filed.
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