Friday, February 3, 2023

Australian nuclear team finds cesium-137 pellet in Western Australia

Don't know if you heard, but Australian mining company Rio Tinto lost a cesium-137 pellet (via the New York Times): 
After a tiny, dangerously radioactive capsule was lost in the Western Australian desert in mid-January, the authorities feared that it could take weeks or even months to find it. The device was smaller than a penny, while the search zone was an 870-mile stretch of highway cutting across vast tracts of desert.

But the search took just six days, with the authorities announcing on Wednesday afternoon that the capsule had been recovered in what they called an “extraordinary result.”
A dedicated team of radiation specialists from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) are behind the successful detection and rapid retrieval of a missing radioactive source in outback Western Australia. 

Working alongside authorities from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), Defence, and the Western Australia Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) as part of a multi-agency response, the team of radiation experts located the miniscule-sized source during a vehicle search using a suite of radiation equipment including ANSTO’s own custom-developed radiation detection and imaging technology.

The source was found two metres from the roadside on the Great Northern Highway near the town of Newman, when ANSTO’s radiation detection equipment – which was mounted in the back of the vehicle - detected the presence of gamma rays whilst travelling at 70 kilometres per hour. 
Congratulations to all involved. I don't think the pellet was a very big deal, but I'm glad they found it nonetheless.

UPDATE: After a couple of comments, I've decided I was wrong in that the potential risks were more than I initially imagined. 


  1. Imagine someone ran it over and it got struck in their tread. Then it gets taken into a major metro that way. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of people could have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation that way. It could have been a much bigger deal.

  2. It will be interesting, if somewhat fruitless, to speculate who will take the fall for this little mishap. Currently I think the blame game is being fought between the contractor who was engaged to package the equipment at either end (and opened the box two weeks after it arrived), and the company that they subcontracted to transport the thing. The debacle doesn't really surprise me - based on my experience, there are plenty more cowboys out in the west than the east...


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20