26 September 2023

Agencies team up to track radioactive danger

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A multi-agency operation successfully detected and recovered a missing but button-size source of radioactivity last week, lost in the far-reaching Western Australian outback.

The search operation was carried out by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), the Department of Defence, and the WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES).

The lost radioactive material was part of a portable radiation gauge used in industries such as mining.

Group Executive for Nuclear Safety, Security, and Stewardship Group at ANSTO, Miles Apperley said the team of radiation experts located the miniscule-sized nuclear source during a vehicle search with a suite of radiation equipment – including ANSTO’s own custom-developed radiation detection and imaging technology.

“For the team to find this missing source over a span of 1,400 kilometres and in the formidable conditions of the outback after only being on the ground for two days, is not only a phenomenal feat, but a testament to Australia’s highly sophisticated nuclear capabilities and our people,” Dr Apperley said.

“Prior to deployment, ANSTO staff performed drive-by test runs of the detection equipment at Lucas Heights using an equivalent radioactive source activity, and evaluated different speeds and terrain conditions to ensure we could confidently detect the missing capsule,” he said.

“The sensitivity of the modified CORIS360® technology gave us the confidence it would be found, and this scenario is an incredible exemplar of Australian nuclear innovation which is aiding Defence, the mining industry, and supporting nuclear safeguards and security.”

The Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic praised the response efforts of ANSTO and the strong collaborative works across the State and Commonwealth.

“It’s fair to say finding a piece of equipment the size of a button in a vast desert was no easy task, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank ANSTO in collaboration with ARPANSA and DFES for their work in locating the capsule,” Mr Husic said.

“ANSTO’s expertise in nuclear technology played an absolute key role in detecting the equipment, having innovated the device which was ultimately used to find the coin-sized capsule on the roadside.”

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