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DU`s Cobalt mess-up just one of 16 cases in India

Delhi University`s auctioning of a gamma irradiator containing Cobalt-60 without following procedures is the latest among 16 cases of radioactive material being stolen, lost or misplaced in the country in the past ten years.



New Delhi: Delhi University`s auctioning of a gamma irradiator containing Cobalt-60 without following procedures is the latest among 16 cases of radioactive material being stolen, lost or misplaced in the country in the past ten years.

The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), the apex
radiation safety regulator of the country, said it has
initiated investigation into at least 16 such incidents
between 2000 and 2009.

One of the cases in 2004 was similar to that of the DU.
An institution, name of which was not revealed by AERB, sold
an "unused instrument with Cobalt-60" to a scrap dealer, who
cut open the device leading to contamination of the premises.
It was not mentioned whether anyone was injured in that
incident.

According to the regulator, there have been only three
recoveries, while the lost radioactive material in other
incidents are yet to be traced.

In one of the cases, an employee with a Chennai-based
company (Wens Quality Assurance Pvt Ltd) stole a radioactive
source and threw it out in January 2009.

Fortunately, the source was recovered and taken back into
safe custody and the company was issued a show-cause notice
for the violations of AERB norms.

In August 2009, an industrial radiography device of a
company reportedly fell from a vehicle during transportation
from Pune to Mumbai by road at Pimpri. However, it was found
intact from a village the next day.

In September 2008, a technician about to board a train at
Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station here lost his suitcase
containing an Industrial Gamma Radiography Exposure Device
(IGRED). Despite extensive search by officials from AERB, the
device could not be traced.

A "50 Ci Ir-192" industrial radiography source contained
in Gammarid Radiography camera was stolen from the storage pit
at Indo Gulf Fertiliser Ltd (IGFL) site in Jagadishpur, Uttar
Pradesh in April 2007. Another such incident was reported by
an institution in Jamshedpur three months later.

The sources in both the cases "could not be recovered
despite extensive searches using high-sensitivity radiation
survey instruments", says the AERB.

In 2006, in another city, a trainee radiographer and his
assistant forgot a fairly high activity IGRED device inside an
autorickshaw while carrying it from its storage facility. This
has also not been traced yet.

Another IGRED model Techops-660 was reported stolen by a
radiography agency the same year and has not been recovered
yet. However, no radiation injury has been reported.

In 2005, two instances of radioactive source theft were
recorded. In May, two Ir-192 sources of moderate activity were
stolen from an industrial unit and there is no trace of it,
while an industrial radiography agency in Navi Mumbai reported
that a fairly strong Ir-192 source was stolen in August.

Investigations revealed that a person working for another
agency had stolen the source and thrown it into the Vashi
Creek. Search operations with the help of the Navy were
carried out, but the source could not be located.

In 2004, AERB officials recovered an industrial
radiography exposure device from a scrap dealer. It was stolen
from the pit room of one of the radiography institute.

The same year, an incident similar to the latest case of
Delhi University, has also been reported.

Without naming the city or the institution, AERB in its
2004 annual report has mentioned that an institution had sold
an "unused instrument with Cobalt-60" to a scrap dealer, who
cut open the device leading to contamination of his premises.
However, AERB did not mention whether anyone was injured in
that incident.

"The incident occurred mainly because the user institute
failed in monitoring the safe storage and security arrangement
provided to nucleonic device awaiting for safe disposal," the
report says.

In 2003, three-level gauges containing Cobalt-60
radioactive sources were stolen from the R&D Department of
TISCO, Jamshedpur. Police investigations found that those were
sold to a scrap dealer in Delhi, but could not be found.

Similarly, between 2000 and 2002, there have been at
least three such incidents of loss, theft or misplacement of
radioactive sources by institutions.

Besides, there were several instances of non-compliance
by institutions with regulatory requirements during transport
of such material.

According to an inventory maintained by AERB, there are
over 1,500 radiography cameras, 7,850 nucleonic gauges (both
are used in industrial inspections), 12 accelerators, 15 gamma
irradiators among all have been scattered in over 1,800
institutions across the country.

PTI

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