A tiny capsule, smaller than a coin, has the Australian government on edge. The capsule is radioactive, deadly, and, more importantly, lost. The capsule is believed to have fallen off a truck while being transported between a desert mine site and the city of Perth reportedly two weeks ago. 

The country’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services has engaged the use of radiation detection equipment fitted to vehicles in an effort to expand the frantic search that is underway for the deadly capsule. The capsule is expected to have fallen off at any point during a journey that spanned over 1400 kilometers.


The radioactive capsule is part of a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore feed. It is composed of Cesium-137 (Cs-137), an isotope that emits dangerous amounts of radiation. Cesium-137 is also one of the by-products of nuclear fission processes in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons testing.

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The radioactive capsule lost in Australia is believed to have the capacity to emit radiation that is the equivalent of receiving 10 X-rays in an hour. Scientists have warned that the radioactive capsule could cause skin burns with prolonged exposure increasing the risk of cancer.

The silver capsule is 6 millimeters in diameter and 8 mm long. Scientists say that it emits both gamma and beta rays and the radioactive material inside has a half-life of 30 years. 


The radioactive capsule was found missing when the gauge it was part of was unpacked for inspection on January 25. The gauge was found to be broken with one of four mounting bolts missing and screws from the gauge also gone. The gauge was picked up by a truck from a mining site in the state of Western Australia on January 12. 

The truck arrived at a depot in the state capital Perth on January 16 where inspections later revealed that the gauge was broken and the capsule missing. Authorities suspect vibrations from the truck caused the screws and the bolt to come loose, and the radioactive capsule from the gauge fell out of the package and then out of a gap in the truck.


The device is so small that is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. However, Andrew Stuchbery who runs the department of Nuclear Physics & Accelerator Applications at the Australian National University told news agency Reuters that finding the radioactive capsule is “not impossible” as searchers are equipped with radiation detectors.

“That’s like if you dangled a magnet over a haystack, it’s going to give you more of a chance. If the source just happened to be lying in the middle of the road you might get lucky…It’s quite radioactive so if you get close to it, it will stick out,” he added.

Western Australian emergency services have called on other Australian states and the federal government for support in finding the capsule as they lack the required equipment. Rio Tinto Ltd — the company that runs the mining site and was transporting the equipment — apologised on Monday for the loss of the tiny radioactive capsule that sparked a radiation alert.

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