Delhi University’s gamma cell irradiator was one of the hundreds of radioactive sources that India received from Canada in the late 60s and 70s—years before the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) was established.
Sources said some key officials at the AERB had raised this concern on Thursday, as the regulatory body has no inventory of radioisotope-carrying machines that came to India prior to AERB’s inception and may be lying idle post their shelf-lives.
Set in the 1950s, the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), which had given Delhi University the machine for research, is a Canadian government-owned organisation that became the world’s largest producer of Cobalt-60-based applications in medical, food and other industries, in the 60s and 70s.
“Almost all the machines, big or small, that came to India in those days were grants from Canada, which was producing them in abundance,” said Deepak Arora, a Delhi-based Radiation Safety Officer for 25 years.
“So, many institutions, including hospitals and colleges, are either sitting on machines forgotten as scrap or have already plunked them as junk.”
There is no way to guarantee that a Mayapuri-like incident will not happen again.
The AERB as good as dissociates itself from the existence of radioactive material procured by India prior to 1983—the year of its inception.
Their excuse: lack of staff.
“We began with a meagre staff strength so there was no way we could have carried out any exercise to make an inventory of machines lying idle,” said Dr Om Pal Singh, member secretary, AERB.
What makes the matter worse is that the rule which puts the onus on the suppliers to return the defunct radioisotopes to where they came from, is a just a recent change in the law.
All these years, it was BARC’s responsibility dispose of radioactive sources after procuring them from their users.
But as is clear in DU’s case, the AERB has no clue about any such defunct machines. “We will now make an inventory of such machines across the country,” S.S. Bajaj, AERB chairman told the Hindustan Times.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) termed the Mayapuri incident as “the most serious global instance of radiation exposure since 2006”.
Once bitten, the AERB has now proposed that from now on, all imported material should be scanned for radiation at the point of import as well. Earlier, only the exporter scanned the material and certified as “non-radioactive”.