Global mining company Rio Tinto says it is collaborating with authorities to locate a radioactive capsule that had gone missing in Western Australia earlier this month.
“We recognise this is clearly very concerning and are sorry for the alarm it has caused,” the firm told the BBC.
The casing contains a trace amount of radioactive Caesium-137, which if touched, can cause serious illness.
It was lost between the towns of Newman and Perth, a distance of approximately 1,400 kilometers (870 miles).
“As well as fully supporting the relevant authorities, we have launched our own investigation to understand how the capsule was lost in transit,” Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore chief executive Simon Trott said in a statement.
“As part of this investigation we are working closely with the contractor to better understand what went wrong in this instance,” he added.
According to the company, the capsule left its Gudai-Darri mine in Western Australia on January 12. It went missing on January 25th.
“Rio Tinto engaged a third-party contractor, with appropriate expertise and certification, to safely package the device in preparation for transport off-site ahead of receipt at their facility in Perth. Prior to the device leaving the site, a Geiger counter was used to confirm the presence of the capsule inside the package.”
A Geiger counter is a type of electronic device that detects and measures radiation. A radiation alert has been issued across a portion of Western Australia by state officials. The sensor is a small silver capsule that measures 6mm (0.24 inches) in diameter and 8mm in length.
Exposure to trace amounts of the metal, on the other hand, is equivalent to “receiving 10 x-rays in an hour, to put it in context, and… the amount of natural radiation we would receive in a year, just by walking around,” according to Western Australia’s chief health officer Andrew Robertson.
The desert in the state is remote and one of the least populated in the country. Only one in every five Western Australians lives outside of Perth, the state capital.
Officials are concerned, however, that someone could pick up the capsule without knowing what it is.
“If you have contact or have it close to you, you could either end up with skin damage, including skin burns… and if you have it long enough near you, you could cause what is called acute radiation sickness, and that will take a period of time,” Robertson added.
This incident occurs as the company attempts to repair its reputation in Australia following a backlash over the destruction of sacred Aboriginal rock shelters in Western Australia.
Rio Tinto demolished the 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge to make way for an iron ore mine.
The incident sparked widespread outrage, prompting several of the company’s top executives to resign.
The company’s then-chief executive, Jean-Sébastien Jacques, and other senior executives, including the heads of its iron ore and corporate relations divisions, announced their departure in September 2020.
(Adapted from BBC.com)