Tag Archives: radiological dispersal device (RDD)

Playing Fast and Loose with Nuclear Substances: a missing radioactive capsule

In the Australian Outback, authorities are engaged in an unusual search-and-recovery effort. Gone missing is a capsule less than an inch long of radioactive material that can burn or sicken anyone who touches it. Their problem is that it could be anywhere along a 900-mile stretch of highway connecting a Rio Tinto PLC mine to Perth, Western Australia’s state capital…The capsule, which is 8-millimeters (about 5/16s of an inch) long and contains a small quantity of radioactive Cesium-137, worked its way loose from a piece of equipment that Rio Tinto had sent to Perth by truck for repair.

The tiny capsule fell along a route that is almost the distance between New York and St. Louis. Complicating the search effort is a gap of nearly two weeks between when the equipment left Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine on Jan. 12, 2023 and when the capsule was discovered to be missing on Jan. 25… Authorities worry the capsule could have become lodged in a tire of any of the vehicles that use the highway, potentially exposing their occupants to radiation levels that they compare to receiving around 10 X-rays in an hour. Exposure could cause radiation burns or severe illness, said Andrew Robertson, Western Australia’s chief health officer. 

Excerpts from Rhiannon Hoyle, Missing Radioactive Capsule Prompts Search and Concern in Australia, WSJ, Jan. 30, 2023

Stop the Dirty Bomb

A DARPA program aimed at preventing attacks involving radiological “dirty bombs” and other nuclear threats has successfully developed and demonstrated a network of smartphone-sized mobile devices that can detect the tiniest traces of radioactive materials. Combined with larger detectors along major roadways, bridges, other fixed infrastructure, and in vehicles, the new networked devices promise significantly enhanced awareness of radiation sources and greater advance warning of possible threats.

The demonstration of efficacy earlier this year was part of DARPA’s SIGMA program, launched in 2014 with the goal of creating a cost-effective, continuous radiation-monitoring network able to cover a large city or region. The demonstration was conducted at one of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s major transportation hubs where DARPA tested more than 100 networked SIGMA sensors…

The pocket-sized radiation “pager” sensors developed by DARPA and used in the exercise can be easily worn on a person’s belt, are one-tenth the cost of conventional sensors, and are up to 10 times faster in detecting gamma and neutron radiation. Moreover, the program achieved its price goal of 10,000 pocket-sized detectors for $400 per unit….A large-scale test deployment of more than 1,000 detectors is being planned for Washington, D.C., later this year.

Excerpt from Ushering in a New Generation of Low-Cost, Networked, Nuclear-Radiation Detectors, OUTREACH@DARPA.MIL, Aug. 23, 2016