Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Missing radioactive canister still on the loose in WA

Tuesday, 16 January 2007 - On 21 December last year, the Western Australian Department of Health announced that a canister containing the radioactive substances, Beryllium and Americium had been lost somewhere between Perth and Dampier in November. The radioactive substance is used by the mining industry to search for minerals, oil and gas.

The Department of Health told Perth Indymedia today that the canister, which emits a very low levels radiation, still remains unfound...

The Department of Health warned people to avoid contact with a mining industry exploration tool that went missing on route from Perth to Dampier. The canister, containing radioactive substances may pose a potential health risk if tampered with, say the Department of Health.

The 52cm-long canister contains Americium-Beryllium, used to search for minerals, oil and gas. Schlumberger Oilfield Services had imported it from the US to use in Dampier.

Acting Director General of Health Dr Simon Towler said the canister, which was imported from the United States by mining company Schlumberger, arrived in Perth on November 13. "The canister was due to be transported to Dampier by freight company Toll on November 18 and the mining company raised the alarm when it was discovered the canister did not arrive," he said in a December 21 media release.

"There is no suggestion of foul play but police have been helping with the investigation since the Schlumberger Radiation Safety officer notified the department last Friday. The canister does not pose a hazard while it remains in the shipping package but people should not interfere with the container in any way or try to open it."

"The silver container, which looks similar to a household gas cylinder, is about 42 cm in diameter, 52 cm long, weighs 61kg and has various labels including one with the words, radioactive material. If anyone finds the canister they should stay at least five metres away as it emits a low dose of radiation, and they should contact their local police."

The Health Department told Perth Indymedia that Toll and Schlumberger are working with Fire & Emergency Services Authority (FESA) to try and locate the canister. According to other media, the State Security Investigation Group and local police have also been searching for the dangerous consignment.

"We believe it would be very difficult to open. If you were to be exposed to it for any substantial period of time, like any radiation, that would be when there is a significant risk," he said. "It is appropriate that people take care if they discover the device. If you are exposed to any form of radiation you can in fact become quite sick over time," he told local media. "The radiation is dependent on time and exposure, you can get skin damage, quite often you can get damage to the bone marrow."

Mr Towler said the canister did not contain material which could be used to make a bomb or explosive device. Toll Holdings said it was confident the canister was not lost while in its possession.

Australian Greens senator Rachel Siewert is demanding why it has taken so long to start the search. "This thing has been missing since the 18th of November, why are alarm bells only ringing a month later? Either Australian safety standards are inadequate, or they have been breached by the companies responsible for its safe transport."

Dr Towler said police had told him the canister did not contain the sort of material terrorists were interested in. "It cannot be used to create a bomb... it’s not explosive material," he said. "But radioactive material is by its nature dangerous."

WA Department of Health Media Release
The West
Sunday Times
ABC News

No comments: