Gamma-Bob' gets help in hunt for lost device

Firm sends equipment to help fellow Ottawan hunt for radioactive item along Alberta highway

Zev Singer
The Ottawa Citizen

Bob Grasty has been hired by an Alberta oilpatch firm to look for a tiny radioactive device that fell off a truck somewhere along 600 kilometres of highway.

If the small, but potentially lethal, radioactive device now missing near the Alberta, Saskatchewan border can be found, it will be an Ottawa company, Sander Geophysics, that does it.

The company, based out of Ottawa Airport, has sent sodium iodide gamma ray spectrometer equipment to the area in an attempt to help detect the device thought to be somewhere along the highway route of the truck used to transport it.

The cylinder, smaller than an AA battery but capable of emitting enough gama rays to harm a person who might unwittingly pick it up, has been missing since Tuesday.

Since then, Tucker Wireline Services Canada has been tracing the route of their truck, from the village of Pierceland in northern Saskatchewan to Wandering River, Alta., 160 kilometres north of Edmonton in search of the device, which contains a material called cesium-137. It is used to help characterize rock strata in petroleum exploration.

Sander Geophysics specializes in using airplanes to detect ground radiation levels from the air. Because of the different radiation patterns emitted by different types of rock, scientists often use such information to map the geophysics of an area.

In the case of the missing cesium, the usually airplane-mounted device will be put onto a truck which will drive same route used by the truck that carried the now-missing shipment.

The device, strong-enough to detect radiation levels from the air, is far more powerful the equipment that has been used so far in the search, according to Bob Grasty, a geophysics consultant, also based in Ottawa, who has been hired by Tucker Wireline to lead the search.

Mr. Grasty, who once led the Geological Survey of Canada's airborne geophysics unit now runs his own consulting business, called Gamma-Bob Inc.

Almost 25 years ago to the day, Mr. Grasty was called to Alberta to help deal with the radioactive debris of a crashed Soviet satellite.

Mr. Grasty said the equipment from Sander Geophysics should be able to pick up the radioactive cesium if it is not yet buried in soil or water.

"You basically hone in on its signature," said Mr. Grasty.

If it is already buried, he said, then it will not be harmful to humans.

The search will continue over the next few days.

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