A tiny radioactive capsule missing on a remote Australian highway has been found, authorities say

Authorities in Australia say they have found a tiny radioactive capsule which went missing last week.

Emergency services had “literally found the needle in the haystack”, authorities in Western Australia said.

A huge search was triggered when the object was lost while being transported along a 1,400km (870-mile) route across the state.

Mining giant Rio Tinto apologised for losing the device, which could have posed a serious danger if handled.

The capsule – which is 6mm (0.24 inches) in diameter and 8mm long – contains a small quantity of Caesium-137, which could cause skin damage, burns or radiation sickness.

Emergency services used specialised equipment including radiation detectors during their hunt.

Announcing their find on Wednesday, the state emergency services paid tribute to “inter-agency teamwork in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds”.

The capsule was found when a vehicle equipped with specialist equipment, which was travelling at 70 km/h, detected radiation, officials said.

Portable detection equipment was then used to locate the capsule, which was found about 2 metres from the side of the road, they added.

The military was verifying the capsule and it would be taken to a secure facility in the city of Perth on Thursday.

The device is part of a density gauge, which was being used at Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. The company had earlier promised to launch an investigation into what had happened.

Exposure to trace quantities of the metal is like “receiving 10 X-rays in an hour, just to put it in context, and… the amount of natural radiation we would receive in a year, just by walking around,” said Western Australia’s chief health officer Andrew Robertson earlier this week.

It was thought that the capsule may have gone missing up to two weeks ago.

The search area for the lost capsule was huge. It is roughly equivalent to the distance by road from John O’Groats in Scotland to Land’s End in Cornwall, or from Washington DC to Orlando, Florida.

The state’s desert is remote and one of the least populated places in the country. Only one in five of Western Australia’s population lives outside of Perth, the state’s capital.

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