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Radioactive capsule goes missing in Western Australia

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A radioactive capsule that emits the equivalent of 10 X-rays per hour worth of radiation has gone missing from a truck in Western Australia. The lost capsule has caused concern among health officials.

The public has been warned to stay away from the capsule if they see it.

It was being transported on a truck between a mine site north of Newman in the Pilbara region and the north-eastern parts of Perth between 10-16 January when it was mislaid. Caesium-137 is a substance commonly used in mining operations.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) called on people to be vigilant after the capsule, which is no more than 6mm by 8mm, went missing on an 870-mile stretch while being moved from Malaga, in Perth, and Newman in the state’s north.

A search was launched on Friday to find the capsule, which contains a substance used within gauges in mining operations.

While it cannot be “weaponised”, it can cause serious health consequences, the Department of Health said.

The object emits a “reasonable” amount of radiation, Dr Andrew Robertson, the state’s chief health officer and Radiological Council chair, said.

Dr Robertson said: “Our concern is that someone will pick it up, not knowing what it is.

“They may think it is something interesting and keep it, or keep it in their room, keep it in their car, or give it to someone.”

The round, silver capsule, which was packaged for transport on January 10 before it was found missing on 25 January, can cause “serious damage” to health if one gets “very close” to it or touches the object.

Motorists are being urged to check their tyres to ensure it is not embedded.

He added: “Exposure to this substance could cause radiation burns or severe illness – if people see the capsule or something that looks similar, stay away from it and keep others away from it too.

“Do not touch or pick it up.

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“If you have touched the material, or have been close to it for an extended period, contact your local health practitioner or visit a hospital emergency department and tell them that you think you may have been exposed to radioactive material.

“If you are very close to the material or touching it, the radiation risk increases immensely and could cause serious damage to your health, including causing radiation burns to the skin.”

Dr Robertson said in footage shared by ABC that the capsule emits an amount of radiation equivalent to having 10 X-rays in one hour.

That is the amount of natural radiation a person is usually exposed to over a year.

He also called on the public to report it immediately.

DFES has released an illustration of the object, which measures 6mm by 8mm.

The sites where the transportation began and ended have been searched and efforts are under way to figure out the exact route and stops that were made to narrow down the field of search.

Anyone who sees the object is asked to call the DFES and to seek urgent medical assistance if they think they have come into contact with it.

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