18 March 2024

Emergency preparedness staff and scientists at the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) were formally recognised for their work last year locating a lost radioactive source in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.  

As the Australian Government’s primary authority on radiation protection and nuclear safety, ARPANSA assisted Western Australian authorities under the Commonwealth Disaster Response Plan, along with officials from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and other Australian Government bodies. 

Each organisation was recognised by the Western Australia Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Deputy Commissioner at a ceremony on Tuesday 12 March 2024.

WA DFES Deputy Commissioner Operations Craig Waters AFSM said that recognising each agency was a way to officially say thank you for their comprehensive work and dedication to recovering the capsule to keep Western Australia safe.   

‘Finding the capsule in such a short space of time was an extraordinary result – and a terrific example of partner agencies working effectively together regardless of state or national jurisdictions,’ he said.   

‘While DFES has specialist staff trained in radiation risk, the expertise and equipment provided by Commonwealth agencies such as the Australian Nuclear and Science Technology Organisation, Australian Defence Force and Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency was vital.

‘The Certificates of Appreciation were a way to officially say thank you to each agency for their comprehensive work and dedication to recovering the capsule to keep Western Australia safe.’

ARPANSA’s Emergency Management Director Scott Muston says the agency is committed to assisting authorities in protecting Australians from the harmful effects of radiation.

‘We provided two operations teams of scientists, a liaison officer and specialised radiation detection equipment to support this search,’ he said.

‘The equipment is used by ARPANSA as part of our regulation of Commonwealth entities, emergency response and to survey background radiation across Australia.’

‘Past surveys have helped us develop a picture of the levels of naturally occurring radiation in the environment, which is useful for emergency preparedness.’     

‘Finding this tiny caesium-137 capsule in the vast outback serves as an example of Australia’s world-class expertise and specialised radiation detection capability.’

ARPANSA’s radiation detection capability

ARPANSA’s radiation detection capability includes the ARPANSA Gamma Mapping System and the US Department of Energy’s Spectral Advanced Radiological Computer System.

Our Gamma Mapping System was designed with Australian conditions in mind such as needing to be rugged and able to cover vast territory.

ARPANSA’s radiation detection system, which comprises of sodium iodide detectors and radiation measurement software, was used in the early 2000s to map Australia’s background radiation.

Both the US and ARPANSA radiation detectors can readily be installed in a vehicle, boat, or aircraft to search for lost or stolen radioactive sources, conduct background surveys over wide areas, and perform monitoring at major public events, provide port-of entry and border crossing surveillance, perform maritime surveys of small watercraft and marinas, and conduct low altitude aerial searches.

‘ARPANSA and Australia more broadly has strong expertise and capability in radiation detection which has proven extremely useful in both radiation measurements and in situations like the WA missing source’, said Mr Muston.

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