Authorities found the “needle in the haystack” after tracking down a tiny but deadly radioactive capsule in the vast expanse of the Australian outback.
The six-day search began when the capsule the size of a pea fell off a truck while being transported along a 870-mile highway with drivers warned it could have unknowingly become lodged in their car’s tires.
It was miraculously detected by a search vehicle travelling at 45 miles per houralong the Great Northern Highway when specialist equipment picked up radiation emitting from the capsule.
Portable search equipment was then used to locate it 2 meters (6.5 feet) from the side of the road.
“This is an extraordinary result ... they have quite literally found the needle in the haystack,” said Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson.
Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson said the capsule did not appear to have moved and no injuries had been reported.
It contains the caesium 137 ceramic source, commonly used in radiation gauges, which emits dangerous amounts of radiation, equivalent of receiving 10 X-rays in an hour. It could cause skin burns and prolonged exposure could cause cancer.
A government investigation has been launched into how the capsule fell off the truck, and a report will be provided to the health minister.
Defence officials were verifying the identification of the capsule, which has been placed into a lead container for safety. It will be stored in a secure location in Newman before being transported to a health facility in the city of Perth.
The capsule got lost while being transported between a desert mine site and Perth.
The chief executive of the mining giant Rio Tinto Iron Ore, Simon Trott, has apologised for the incident.