The small capsule containing the Cesium-137 material that disappeared in Australia in recent weeks has yet to be found. The object had been collected in a mine in Newman, northwest of the country, on January 10 and was lost on the way to the city of Perth, capital of the state of Western Australia.
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The accident has mobilized a large number of personnel, including state police, Western Australia’s health department and other government agencies in the search for the capsule. Eight millimeters high and six millimeters in diameter, the cylindrical object is smaller than a coin and could be anywhere along the 1,400-kilometer route taken by the truck carrying it.
This Tuesday (31), federal agents joined the search, which has been going on for a week, since the state police were notified on the 25th. Authorities have repeatedly asked the population not to approach the material, as cesium-137 is extremely radioactive and can cause severe health damage.
The capsule was owned by one of the largest mining companies in the world, the Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto. The company contracted SGS Australia to pack the material, whose transport was outsourced to the logistics company Centurion. It is suspected that the vibrations caused by the bumpy road loosened the packing bolts, allowing the capsule to fall from the truck.
The Cesium-137 incident in Goiânia
The great concern and huge Australian mobilization in their search for the capsule is justified by the risks that Cesium-137 presents. The substance is the same one that, in September 1987, played a role in the radioactive disaster in the city of Goiânia.
The accident was caused by an abandoned radiotherapy device that was sold to a junkyard because it contained lead, a material of relative financial value. The owner of the site found fragments of the radioactive element in the form of a bright blue powder, which distributed the material to other deposits, as well as friends and family.
People who had contact with the material began, in the first days after the incident, to show symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and skin burns. The event was only recognized as a radioactive accident 16 days after contact, when contaminated people took the material to the sanitary surveillance of the state of Goiás.
Over the next few days, federal and state agencies worked to identify individuals exposed to radiation and decontaminate the main outbreaks in the city. 249 people showed significant contamination, with 120 only having it on their clothes and shoes. Of the other 129, four died and 28 had serious complications related to the fact.
Source: Reuters, Government of Western Australia, Goiás Health Department