Talk about searching for a needle in a haystack. Australian authorities are currently looking for a tiny radioactive capsule that they believe fell from a truck during a recent journey from a desert mine to a storage facility in the city of Perth.
The problem is that the capsule is just 6 millimeters in diameter and 8 millimeters tall, while the road being searched runs for 870 miles. That’s the distance between Los Angeles and Portland, or, to put it another way, the entire length of Great Britain. According to Google Maps, the route takes more than 12 hours to drive. Walking it, which is probably the pace you’d want to go at if you’re looking for something this small, would take around 233 hours.
The capsule is a component commonly used within gauges in mining work. It was being transported securely inside a truck, but officials at mining firm Rio Tinto Iron Ore believe vibrations from the vehicle may have loosened screws that were holding it in. After that, it’s thought the capsule fell through a hole in the truck and onto the road.
Although the incident is believed to have taken place on January 10, the emergency services were only notified last Wednesday, while the public finally got to hear about it on Friday.
Anyone who comes across the capsule is being warned to stay at least 16 feet clear of it. Contact could result in skin damage, burns, and radiation sickness, including adverse effects on the immune system, the authorities said, while long-term exposure could cause cancer.
“We recognize this is clearly very concerning and are sorry for the alarm it has caused in the Western Australian community,” Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Simon Trott said in a statement. “As well as fully supporting the relevant authorities, we have launched our own investigation to understand how the capsule was lost in transit.”
There’s concern that the capsule may have gotten lodged in a car tire and been transported far from the route currently being searched.
Commenting on the painstaking efforts to track down the capsule, lo0cal police superintendent Darryl Ray said: “What we’re not doing is trying to find a tiny little device by eyesight. We’re using the radiation detectors to locate the gamma rays.”