Missing nuclear gauge 'poses risk'

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The public is at risk of radiation from a nuclear gauge which was last seen on the M3 at Wisley two years ago and is unlikely to be recovered, a court was told yesterday.

In the first case of its kind, the Health and Safety Executive and HM Inspectorate of Pollution told Reigate magistrates' court in Surrey how Camas Associated Asphalt Limited, a road construction company based in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, wrongly recorded the devices' whereabouts and, on discovering that it was in fact missing, failed to inform them of the loss for over a year.

The Troxler gauge, designed to measure the moisture content and density of road surfaces, contains a Caesium-137 and an Americium-241/Berilium. Paul Appleton, prosecuting for the HSE, explained the potential danger of the device to the public. "If you got hold of the source in the end of [the] rod and held it for 10 minutes you would exceed your yearly dose."

Camas Associated Asphalt Limited pleaded guilty to breaching the ionising Radiations Regulations Act 1985 and the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 and was ordered to pay pounds 26,000 and pounds 10,500 to the HMIP and the HSE respectively, plus costs in excess of pounds 6,000.

The presiding magistrate, Professor Shelley, said: "Dangers to the public of the radiation materials involved may indeed be negligible if the equipment is correctly maintained and located. But there is now no known location of the equipment and sources may now have been broken from the equipment and decimated into the environment."

Keith Harsham, an HMIP pollution inspector, said after the case: "A kid could easily mistake the brightly coloured device for a toy and touch it. Worst of all, it ends up in a metal scrap yard - which is likely because it has a high scrap value. There is a high probability of a fatality if it is combusted."