Following yesterday’s item on the canister of radioactive material missing in Western Australia, Crikey received fresh information on how it may have been lost, what the canister looks like, how easy it would be to break into, possible uses for the contents and what’s being done to find it. We even got instructions on opening it.

But moments before publication this morning, Crikey learned that the canister had been found. And yes, it had fallen off the back of a truck. An item similar to the canister pictured below had been lying in the desert for two months:

Here’s the press release released today by the Western Australian Department of Health:

Media Statement

Wednesday 17 January 2007

Radioactive mining canister recovered

The Department of Health has recovered a radioactive mining exploration tool that went missing on route from Perth to Dampier last month.

The canister was found yesterday by a Main Roads crew just off the Brand Highway, about five kilometres north of the Badgingarra Roadhouse (240 kilometres north of Perth).

The canister, which was imported from the United States by mining company Schlumberger, arrived in Perth on November 13.

It was due to be transported to Dampier by freight company Toll on November 18, however, the mining company raised the alarm when it was discovered the canister did not arrive.

Department of Health Chief Health Officer Dr Andrew Robertson said the canister was intact with no leakage of the radioactive material.

“We are extremely pleased that the canister has been located and would like to thank WA Police, Fire and Emergency Services Authority, Schlumberger and Toll for their assistance in the search,” he said.

The canister has now been transported to secure storage in Perth and will be returned to Schlumberger as soon as possible.

Dr Robertson said a special meeting of the Radiological Council would be held on Friday, January 19 to review the incident and current arrangements for the transport of radioactive materials.

That still leaves some questions.

The canister was lost on 18 November, but Schlumberger did not notify the Western Australian government until 15 December. Why the delay? And why did it take almost a week for the Department of Health to warn the public?

Given that there was enough radioactive material to make a “dirty bomb”, does carrying such an item in an open trailer provide adequate security?

And finally, ultimate responsibility for the lost shipment rests with Schlumberger. The relevant legislation and the terms of their license make that responsibility clear. Has Schlumberger met those responsibilities, especially concerning its reporting of the incident?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey