“We take this incident very seriously,” Simon Trott, chief executive of Rio Tinto Iron Ore, said in a statement. “We clearly realize this is very concerning and we regret the concern it has caused in the Western Australian community.”
Trott noted in a statement that Rio Tinto engaged an outside contractor to securely package the device in preparation for off-site transportation prior to pick-up at a facility in Perth, Xinhua reported.
Before the device left the site, a Geiger counter was used to confirm the presence of the capsule inside the package.
Trott added, “We have launched our own investigation to understand how the capsule was lost in transit. As part of that investigation, we are working closely with the contractor to better understand what went wrong in this case.”
On January 27, the state’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) issued a radioactive material hazard warning for parts of the Pilbara, Midwest Gascoigne, Goldfields Midlands, and Perth Metropolitan regions.
According to DFES, a 6mm x 8mm silver capsule, containing radioactive material cesium-137, was lost during transport from North Newman to the northeastern suburbs of Perth.
Although the risks to the general community are relatively low, the British Foreign Office has warned that exposure to this substance can cause radiation burns or radiation sickness, and has also urged people to stay at least five meters away from it.
Dale Bailey, a nuclear medicine physicist from the University of Sydney, said on Monday that such events are uncommon, due to strict international standards for transport container requirements and planning approvals required to transport radioactive material.
“The loss of any radioactive material is a cause for concern. In this case, it was an industrial test source of radioactive cesium-137. It has a moderate physical half-life (about 30 years) which means that the source will remain radioactive and detectable above normal background radiation levels in the environment for about 300 years.” .It emits beta and gamma radiation and has been used in the past for radiotherapy,” Bailey said.
The expert also pointed out that the radioactivity in this case would be contained inside a suitable capsule and would not pose a great danger while the container was not penetrated.
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