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Australian team tracks down tiny radioactive device lost on desert highway

Photo for representation

Australian authorities on Wednesday succeeded in finding a highly radioactive capsule that was lost along a 1,400 km highway that runs through the desert in the western region of the country, according to a Reuters report sourced to an emergency services official.

The military was verifying the capsule and it would be taken to a secure facility in the city of Perth on Thursday, Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said in a news conference.

“When you consider the scope of the research area, locating this object was a monumental challenge, the search groups have quite literally found the needle in the haystack,” Dawson explained.

Mining giant Rio Tinto Group had lost the “highly radioactive” capsule triggering a radiation alert in the country.

The small radioactive widget was a component in a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore. It is a mere 8 millimeters (0.3 inch) in length and contains a small amount of the radioactive isotope caesium-137 which could cause serious illness if touched.

Rio Tinto said the radioactive capsule was collected from  its mine on Jan. 12 by a transport contractor, and was due to arrive at a radiation storage facility in Perth on Jan. 16. It was only discovered to be missing when its container was opened for inspection on Jan 25.

“We are taking this incident very seriously. We recognize this is clearly very concerning and are sorry for the alarm it has caused in the Western Australian community,” Rio Tinto had said.