A tiny 8mm by 6mm radioactive capsule went missing in January 2023, somewhere along a 1400 kilometre journey from Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri iron ore mine to its final destination in Perth, Western Australia.
The capsule contained a 20 GBq Caesium-137 (Cs-137) radioactive source. As the source was emitting high levels of radiation, enough to have significant impacts with prolonged exposure, it was imperative to find the source in a timely manner.
ANSTO, the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), all responded.
As part of ANSTO’s response, our Detection and Imaging team quickly modified the CORIS360® technology to perform as a vehicle deployed detection system for the source search mission. Pre-deployment drive-by test runs of the detection equipment were undertaken using an equivalent Cs-137 radioactive source at ANSTO’s facility in Sydney. This provided confidence the modified CORIS360® could detect the missing capsule over a range of speed, distance and terrain conditions.
By Wednesday 1 February, several teams were conducting searches, including three ANSTO teams: two based in Perth and one, known as team “Bravo”, in the town of Newman.
Its disappearance was not discovered until 25 January when the equipment was unpacked in Perth. On 27 January, Western Australia (WA) authorities notified the public that the capsule could be anywhere along the 1400 kilometre route. The WA authorities subsequently requested assistance in the source search from federal government agencies and authorities.
CORIS360 Radioactive Source Found in WA
"We were absolutely stoked!” Dr Lachlan Chartier, Senior Physicist from our team, explains how the radioactive capsule was located.
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Detecting at 70 km/h
CORIS360® was mounted inside the lead vehicle in the “Bravo” convoy. Travelling south of Newman at 70km/h, the CORIS360® system detected a spike in 662 keV gamma ray emissions.
An exclusion zone was quickly established. CORIS360® was then redeployed outside the vehicle where the radioactive capsule was precisely identified in a location two meters off the Great Northern Highway.
Using specialised equipment, authorities entered the exclusion zone and safely retrieved the capsule. The capsule was then transported under escort to Perth and safely stored at an undisclosed location.