A mining company lost a radioactive capsule in Australia

And it will be difficult to find, as it's only 8 millimeters by 6 millimeters.

A mining company lost a radioactive capsule in Australia
A member of the Incident Management Team coordinates the search for a radioactive capsule that was lost in transit by a contractor hired by Rio Tinto, at the Emergency Services Complex in Cockburn, Australia, in this undated handout photo. Department of Fire and Emergency Services/Handout via REUTERS

The backstory: On January 10, mining company Rio Tinto in Western Australia transported equipment from a desert mine site to Perth. The truck arrived at a Perth depot on January 16. But, on January 25, the company notified local authorities that a radioactive capsule on board had gone missing. The capsule, a Caesium-137 ceramic source, is used in radiation gauges. This material gives off radiation equivalent to receiving 10 X-rays in an hour and can cause skin burns and cancer if there's longtime exposure to it. And it will be difficult to find, as it's only 8 millimeters by 6 millimeters. Authorities have even warned that it could possibly get unknowingly lodged on someone's car tire.

The development: The hunt is on for this capsule. As soon as authorities found out about this accident, officials were sent out to look for it. On Monday, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services said it would take about five days to retrace the truck's route. On Tuesday, it said that 660 kilometers had already been searched. That same day, Australian authorities sent out more people and specialized equipment to detect radioactive material. They believe the capsule fell off the truck along a 1,400-kilometer section of the Great Northern Highway, which, for perspective, is longer than the California coastline.

Key comments:

"We recognize this is clearly very concerning and are sorry for the alarm it has caused in the Western Australian community," said Rio Tinto's CEO, Simon Trott, on Sunday. "As well as fully supporting the relevant authorities, we have launched our own investigation to understand how the capsule was lost in transit."

"Upon opening the package, it was found that the gauge was broken apart with one of the four mounting bolts missing and the source itself and all screws on the gauge also missing," said Australia's Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

"Today's delivery will further boost our search efforts and complement the equipment we have been using since the search started last Thursday," Darryl Ray, incident controller for the fire and emergency services department, said in a statement about deploying more equipment to search for the capsule. "The equipment can detect radiation emitted by the missing capsule and is currently being used around the Perth metropolitan area and outskirts."