Regulator’s failure in radiation mishap

Atomic energy board forgot gamma irradiators purchased before 1983  

By Jyotika Sood
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

india’s atomic energy regulator too seems to be at fault for the radiation mishap in West Delhi in early April that killed one person. The Delhi University took all the blame after police tracked the source of radiation to the university chemistry laboratory that had sold a gamma irradiator containing Cobalt-60, a radioactive material, as scrap to dealers. Eight persons were taken ill when they dismantled the apparatus.

Sources in the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (aerb) said the board was also responsible as it had not kept track of the equipment Delhi University procured from Canada in 1968 for research. At the time, it was registered with the Directorate of Radiological Protection (drp). After aerb was established in 1983, none of the officials ever made inventories of radioactive materials and machinery procured before 1983. The drp files containing all details were never opened before the accident in Mayapuri, they added.

As many as six gamma irradiators were purchased by different institutions between 1965 and 1975. aerb secretary Om Pal Singh said it was not possible to disclose the names of the institutes that purchased the machines. “But three of these machines are safe, secure and in working condition,” Singh said.

Spokesperson for Department of Atomic Energy, S K Malhotra, said all Cobalt-60 pieces from the university’s gamma irradiator are now with the department and stored safely.

The Delhi Police has, meanwhile, registered a negligence case against Delhi University.

The mishap also highlighted the lack of preparedness of the National Disaster Management Authority (ndma). The fate of the patients undergoing treatment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (aiims) is uncertain, but they could have received better care. “There is no infrastructure in any Delhi hospital to deal with radiation patients. They are highly prone to infections and need to be kept in rooms padded with polymer filters to keep infections at bay,” a nuclear medicine expert said on condition of anonymity.

When contacted, ndma member J R Bhardwaj said the authority is responsible for issuing instructions which it did. “The patients can be kept in isolation wards and hospitals like aiims have that facility,” he said.

But the nuclear medicine expert said ndma should have ensured all facilities and treatment protocol are in place since post irradiation management is crucial to a patient’s recovery. Some of the patients admitted in hospital are suffering acute radiation syndrome (ars) that lasts several months.

Former scientist with the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences, H C Goel, said ars can manifest in three forms: bone marrow syndrome, gastrointestinal (GI) syndrome and cardiovascular/central nervous system syndrome.

The first reduces blood count and causes haemorrhage; GI syndrome is characterized by diarrhoea and electrolyte imbalance; nervousness and diarrhoea are symptoms of the third.

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