Could a radioactive capsule go missing in Canada?

Could a radioactive capsule go missing in Canada?

Following the disappearance of a tiny radioactive capsule in the Australian outback, an expert in Canada says the likelihood of the same happening in that country is remote given our strict regulations on how we handle radioactive materials.

The capsule was reported missing on January 25 after falling from a truck while being transported along a 1,400-kilometer stretch of motorway in Western Australia. Authorities in the region announced on Wednesday that the capsule had been found after days of searching

Here’s what you need to know about handling radioactive equipment in Canada and if the same could happen here:


The capsule, which went missing in Australia, was only 6 mm in diameter and 8 mm long. It was part of a gauge used to measure the density of iron ore at Rio Tinto’s Gudai Darri mine in Western Australia. It contains the cesium-137 ceramic source, which emits dangerous levels of radiation equivalent to receiving 10 x-rays in one hour.

Laura Boksman, senior consulting scientist at the Radiation Safety Institute of Canada, says such devices, which contain similarly radioactive material, are widespread in Canada.

“We would have this type of device with radioactive material in all sorts of industries in Canada — mining, processing. You could have it in pulp and paper, you could have it in the steel industry, you could have it in bottling plants,” she told in a phone interview on Wednesday. “Actually, they’re very common.”


To transport radioactive material, individuals must apply for a permit from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the federal agency responsible for nuclear power and radioactive materials.

Applications must include an overview of any planned security protocols, such as: B. the training of the people who transport it, how the material is packed, which safety audits are carried out regularly and what contingency plans are in place if the material is lost or stolen.

“You have to provide the regulator with a lot of information to show that you are committed to working safely and that your plans are appropriate for what you want and plan to do with the type of radioactive material you have ‘ Boksman said

Transport permits are usually issued for a period of five or ten years and are associated with additional reporting requirements. In addition, the CNSC also conducts routine inspections.

“There are annual reports that have to be submitted. There are financial guarantees that need to be provided…so that if you go down the drain and just leave, the government will get financial compensation to deal with the problems you left behind. ‘ Boksman added. “The use of radioactive material is very heavily regulated by the CNSC.”

Improper handling of radioactive materials can result in thousands of dollars in fines, and even imprisonment in Canada. But in Australia, penalties are capped at A$1,000 (C$949), which Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called “ridiculously low”.


Given Canadian regulations, Boksman says it is “extremely unusual” for a radioactive source to be lost without being housed in a device or packaging

“That kind of source would have been in any kind of gauge, and they definitely don’t diverge. And then when you look at how they are transported, they have to be transported in a specific packaging,” said Boksmann.

In 2022, there were five cases of lost or stolen sources or radiation equipment, according to CNSC. Three of these cases involved theft of portable measuring devices, two of which were seized. In the other two cases, capsules containing iodine 125 were lost in Montreal, but the CNSC classified these as Category 5 sources, or “very low risk.”

Boksman says five cases of lost or stolen sources per year is “really, really quite low.”

“There are thousands upon thousands of shipments of radioactive material every day. We have such a small number relative to the number of shows that are out there,” she said.

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press

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