A mining giant has offered to foot the bill for a recent outback search for a radioactive capsule, but they won’t be making the payment in cash.
Instead, Rio Tinto is donating a $4m, 40-bed work camp to the Western Australian government, which will be used to house workers as they rebuild damaged property in the flood-ravaged Kimberley region.
Ex-tropical cyclone Ellie brought monsoonal rains in early January, triggering a once-in-100 year flooding event in the central and western Kimberley.
The tiny but potentially deadly radioactive capsule was found five days after it was reported missing. Exposure to the caesium-137 pellet gives off radiation equivalent to 10 X-rays in an hour.
The towns of Broome, Derby, and Fitzroy Crossing were severely impacted, as well as dozens of smaller localities and Indigenous communities in the Fitzroy River catchment.
“One of the things we need is accommodation for workers,” said Premier Mark McGowan, announcing the donation in a media conference on Thursday.
“Obviously, most of the housing is occupied by people that live there, and the other housing is damaged.
“So we’ve had to acquire accommodation in motels and other places to meet the needs of the workforce moving there to do a lot of the work.”
Rio’s iron ore chief executive, Simon Trott, said the donated facility more than covers the cost of finding and recovering the radioactive pellet.
WA Premier Mark McGowan welcomed Rio’s donation of the 40-bed mobile work camp. Picture: NCA NewsWire / James Gourley
“This camp satisfies the obligation to pay for the search,” said Mr Trott. “The camp is mobile, it comes with a mess, with a laundry, and some other facilities.
“We’re confident we can get it there by the end of April, hopefully.”
Authorities scrambled to find the tiny piece of radioactive material – which can comfortably fit on a 10c coin – after it was believed to have fallen out of a mining gauge being transported on a truck from a Rio mine site just north of the mining town of Newman.
It was reported missing on January 25, prompting a search along a 1400km stretch of road between Perth and Newman.
Rio Tinto estimates the cost of the mobile camp to be about $4m. Picture: Getty Images
It was found five days later about 74km south of the town, about two metres off the Great Northern Highway.
Mr Trott wouldn’t put a dollar value on the cost of the search, but said the value of the camp and relocating it is in excess of the amount.
A number of investigations are underway to determine exactly how the capsule came to break free.
“The investigation is progressing to get to the bottom of exactly what happened so it doesn’t happen again,” said Mr Trott.
“We’ve put a stop on the movement of capsules … we’ve also taken out services gauges from that manufacturer while we do that investigation.”
Meanwhile, the state government is taking steps to try to attract the desperately needed tradies to the flood-ravaged Kimberley region.
Applications are now open for the Construction Training Fund (CTF) Disaster Recovery Grants.
Employers of apprentices and trainees working in the affected regions can claim an additional grant of up to $3,000 annually until June 2025, while apprentices or trainees can claim up to $1,000 annually over the same period to cover costs like travel and accommodation.
Hundreds of homes and businesses were inundated by flood waters, while roads and highways were badly damaged as the Fitzroy River smashed previous flood level records.
The $3.5m scheme was launched in late 2021 to help assist in the recovery of the Wooroloo bushfires and Cyclone Seroja.
It was meant to run out at the end of 2023, but has now been extended by two years.