A week into the search for the radioactive capsule in the Outback, Australia wants to impose bigger fines.
As the search for a dangerous capsule that a mining company lost in the Outback goes on for a seventh day, Australian officials want to make it harder to mess up with radioactive materials.
Officials from Western Australia’s emergency response department, the defence department, radiation experts, and others are searching a 1,400-kilometer (870-mile) stretch of highway for a small capsule that was lost in transit more than two weeks ago.
The radioactive capsule was part of a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore feed from Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. The ore was being taken to a facility in the suburbs of Perth, which is farther away than Great Britain is.
State laws from 1975 say that if you don’t handle radioactive materials safely, you will be fined $1,000 and $50 for every day you keep doing it.
At a news conference in Perth, the state capital, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said about the fine, “That number is ridiculously low, but I think it’s ridiculously low because people didn’t think such an item could be lost.”
The silver capsule is 6 mm in diameter and 8 mm long. It contains caesium-137, which gives off radiation equal to 10 X-rays per hour.
Albanese said, “It shouldn’t have been lost.”
On Monday, Rio Tinto said it was sorry for the loss. It had given the job of shipping to people who knew how to pack and move things.
Amber-Jade Sanderson, the state minister for health, said at the news conference that her government was looking to increase fines and penalties in these kinds of cases to help pay for the costs.
“The way fines are set up now is too low, and we are looking into how to make them higher,” Sanderson said.
She said that the investigation showed that the loss was caused by carelessness, not by a plot.
Officials think that the bumpy road caused screws and a bolt on the gauge to loosen, which let the capsule fall out. The gauge was taken from the mine site on January 12 and was being checked out when the missing capsule was found on January 25.
People have been told to stay at least five metres (16.5 feet) away from the capsule if they see it, because being too close could cause radiation burns or radiation sickness. However, driving past it is thought to be about as dangerous as getting an X-ray.
Col Blanch, the state commissioner, told reporters on Tuesday that police looked into charging someone for the lost capsule but decided there was no reason to do so.
“We’ve been looking at it from the point of view of an investigation to see if there were any crimes. “We have pretty much decided that’s not the case,” he told reporters.
($1 equals $1.4152 in Australia)