Authorities were undertaking the daunting task of locating and securing the tiny capsule, believed to have fallen from a truck on January 10 during its long journey from a desert mine near Newman to a storage facility in Perth.

Emergency services were first notified last Wednesday, authorities said, and alerted the public last Friday.

«DFES and radiation specialists are searching along the Great Northern Highway driving north and south at low speeds,» the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said in a hazmat alert on Monday, and He added that he was using inspection gauges to find the capsule by detecting radiation levels.

The truck arrived in Perth on January 16, DFES said, while emergency services were only notified about the missing capsule on January 25 when an indicator was unpacked for inspection.

“Upon opening the package, it was discovered that the meter was broken and one of the four mounting bolts was missing and the source and all the screws on the meter were also missing,” the emergency services said.

While the capsule cannot be assembled, the Health Department said in a statement Friday, it can cause «serious health consequences.»

The capsule’s radioactive source, Cesium-137, emits potentially deadly amounts of radiation, nearly equivalent to receiving 10 X-rays in an hour, and prolonged exposure can even cause cancer. Cesium-137 takes nearly 30 years to break down in half.

«It dies off quite quickly, compared to other radionuclides. However, its short half-life means it’s quite active,» Hajime Kinoshita, a senior professor of materials chemistry at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, told NBC News.

«So if someone has it in their pocket or something, it’s not particularly good,» he said, adding that prolonged exposure could damage human cells.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services released this diagram showing the missing pod.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services released this diagram showing the missing pod. DFES

Authorities have warned people to keep at least 5 meters apart.

“Exposure to this substance could cause radiation burns or serious illness. If people see the capsule or anything similar, please stay away and keep others away too,» Western Australia’s chief health officer Andrew Robertson said in a statement. Friday.

“If you are very close to or touch the material, the radiation risk is greatly increased and could cause serious damage to your health, including radiation burns to the skin.”

Concerns remained about the capsule getting stuck in car tires. But the risk to passengers was low, Kinoshita said, since the organic material in the tires and the car’s iron frame should block the radiation.

The radioactive material is routinely transported around Western Australia, albeit under strict regulations, and is commonly used in medicine, industry, mining and research, Robertson told NBC News in a separate statement Monday.

“It is extremely rare for a source to go missing,” he said, adding that these radioactive sources are usually returned to the manufacturer at the end of their useful life.

Rio Tinto did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for further comment.

Associated Press contributed.