Australia’s radioactive capsule: Scientists were quietly confident as they looked for answers.
The job was hard: they had to find a small radioactive capsule that had fallen off a truck in January somewhere in the vast outback of Western Australia.
It was like looking for the proverbial “needle in a haystack,” as the media and officials put it, but experts who were part of the search were optimistic about their chances.
“A lot of people would have thought it was impossible, but everyone was sure we could find it,” Bronte Sial, an expert in radiological safety, told Reuters in an interview.
Related: Australia’s stock market is up at the end of the day; the S&P/ASX 200 is up 0.23.
Sial, who works for the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, was part of one of six teams that searched 1,400 km (870 miles) of road between Perth and the remote north of the state for the Caesium-137 capsule, which was only 6 mm in diameter and 8 mm in length, or about the size of a tic-tac.
With sensors hanging out the windows, the cars could go no faster than 70 km/h. Inside the vehicles, radiation detectors like the CORIS360, which was made in Australia, scanned the environment.
She said that they were looking for the unique signature of caesium-137 against a background of radioactive chatter.
Due to its A$230 billion ($160 billion) mining industry, Western Australia is full of low-level rays. Sial added with a laugh that there was nothing to worry about.
Sial and her coworker played soft music by the 90s rock band Stone Temple Pilots in the background. She said that electronic music would have made it hard to hear the machinery.
“It wasn’t too boring, and we love to play our instruments because they’re so great.” “I can’t get used to the sound they make,” she said.
The story of the capsule, which was part of a gauge used at Rio Tinto’s (NYSE:RIO) Gudai-Darri iron ore mine, started when it left the mine on January 12. It wasn’t found until just under two weeks later in Perth. The gauge broke apart on the way, so it was lost. This started a huge search that, at its peak, involved 100 people from at least five government agencies.
The capsule was found by a different group on Wednesday morning. It is now being held in a secure facility in Perth.
Each morning, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services in Western Australia gave the teams sandwiches and told them where to look. In the evening, they would pull up to a place they had already booked.
Sial said that passing trucks, not radiation, were the biggest threat. Road trains, which are made up of trucks pulling multiple trailers that can be as long as two basketball courts, barrel through Western Australia, a state that is seven times bigger than Germany but has only a third as many people.
The cars were followed by fire trucks, which kept the scientists safe when they got out to check the road.
She says, “You don’t want people walking around on the road when there are big trucks around.”
People on social media were happy about the unlikely find. One Twitter user called the people who were looking for Australia the “Australia Hide and Go Seek Champions of 2023.”
Related: Australia’s stock market is up at the end of the day; the S&P/ASX 200 is up 1.29.
Sial said that their success showed that Australian nuclear scientists could do their jobs without help.
“We have been getting ready for just this kind of thing.” “Even though we don’t have as many reactors as other countries, it’s great that we were finally able to show that Australia is more than capable.”
Radioactive materials are sometimes lost or stolen in Australia, where 50,000 people are licensed to use them.
In 2019, six items were found, lost, or stolen, according to the Australian Radiation Incident Register. Police reports say that in the same year, a radioactive gauge was stolen in the state of Queensland.
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