A 'highly radioactive' capsule lost somewhere along a 1,400-kilometre highway through the Western Australian desert has been found, authorities said on Wednesday. The dangerous capsule fell off a truck on a remote Australian highway.
The capsule, smaller than a human fingernail, was recovered by the side of the road near the town of Newman, Western Australia, state emergency services said. It will be transported to a secure facility in Perth.
The capsule disappeared from a truck travelling along the Great Northern Highway from a remote mine operated by Rio Tinto to the southwestern city of Perth sometime in mid-January, reported AFP.
Its disappearance went unnoticed until later in the month.
For the last week, vehicles carrying radiation detection equipment have been scouring a strip of Australia larger than the distance between Madrid and Paris, or New York and Chicago.
The eight millimetres by six millimetres contains enough Caesium-137 to cause acute radiation sickness.
"It's a good result," minister Stephen Dawson told reporters. "It's certainly a needle in a haystack that has been found, and I think West Australians can sleep better tonight."
The capsule is part of a gauge used for measuring the density of iron ore.
It was part of a package picked up on January 12 from Rio Tinto's Gudai-Darri iron ore mine and delivered to the Perth suburb of Malaga on January 16.
But the package was not opened until January 25 when the gauge was found "broken apart" with the radioactive capsule missing. State police were informed the same day.
It was ultimately found a few hour drive from the mine.
The Australian defence force is now verifying the small radioactive device by its serial number, the Guardian reported.
WA's chief health officer, Andrew Robertson, said that an investigation had been launched to determine how the device was lost. If negligence is proved then charges may be laid.
"I have a responsibility as the chair of the radiological council to actually investigate and if required, prosecute offences under the act," he said.
He added, "We have a number of authorised officers who are doing that. Our radiation health branch, within the Department of Health, is conducting that investigation and they will be looking at all aspects of this event."
He added that he was not aware of any injuries or people exposed to radiation.