The tiny object contained a little radioactive Caesium-137, which could have had serious consequences if an un-informed member of the public picked it up.
This includes skin damage, burns or radiation sickness.
Western Australia’s chief police officer Andrew Robertson said earlier this week that just exposure to trace quantities of the metal was akin to getting “10 X-rays in an hour” and equivalent to the “amount of natural radiation we would receive in a year”.
Luckily, the area the capsule was lost in is one of the most deserted places in the country.
The runaway device was being transported by a subcontracted company between a mining site on January 12 in Newman town and a storage facility in the north-east suburbs of Perth when it somehow escaped.
Authorities did not realise it was missing until an inspection on January 25, when the broken gauge which had been holding it was discovered. It is thought that vibrations during transit may have bust it open.
Amazingly it was discovered just two metres from the road, on the ground among tiny pebbles, near Newman, and identified by the serial number on it – despite only being 6mm (0.24inches) in diameter and 8mm long.
The state emergency services thanked the “interagency teamwork in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds” for finding the tiny capsule during their “needle in a haystack” search.
Around 1,400 (870 miles) of Western Australian land was searched in total before it was found – the same distance between Northern Scotland and Land’s End.
Here's the #radioactive#capsule in question, which was found 74kms south of Newman at 11am today. The capsule has a serial number, which has been used to verify that this is indeed the object that has been the focus of our search for the past week. https://t.co/fsCW0H88rW#WApic.twitter.com/AkB78jqic8— DFES (@dfes_wa) February 1, 2023
They had to use specialist equipment travelling at 43mph (or 70km/h) to detect radiation, before using portable detection devices to locate its exact whereabouts.
Rio Tinto, mining company, apologised for losing the item used to gauge density in the mines.
Head of the company’s iron ore division Simon Trott said the “device should never have been lost”, and it was found after the “pretty incredible recovery”.
The mining giant said it would be happy to reimburse the cost of the search if requested by the government, while the Australian authorities are reviewing the existing laws on the topic.
Now, a 20-meter “hot zone” has been set up around the capsule and it’s safe and sound in a lead container.
But, just to make extra sure, it’s going to be put in a secure location in Newman overnight, and transported to another secure facility in Perth on Thursday.