Delhi government’s largest hospital, Lok Nayak, is sitting on three large containers full of radioactive waste that may have the potential to endanger many lives in case of an exposure or leakage.
Even though the hospital’s brachytherapy unit, with radiation machines to treat cervical cancer, has not been in use for nearly 20 years, it has not been able to dispose of the material.
The material is lying in a locked room at the hospital’s gynaecology department.
“Radioactive waste, mostly cobalt and radium needles, kept in lead boxes is lying in a locked room. The lock can be broken easily,” said a doctor.
“If this material reaches the scrap market, it wouldn’t take long for another Mayapuri-like leak to happen,” he said. “But all this material—defunct for some time—has low radiation potential. This material was marked for condemnation three years back,” said Dr Banerjee.
The Lok Nayak administration admitted to the lapse. “We have disposed of the material as a proper place for such waste disposal has not been identified. We can’t go ahead without medical physicist’s advice,” said Dr Amit Banerjee, medical superintendent, Lok Nayak.
And since there’s no medical physicist, a radiation safety officer, the hospital’s radiation department has been shut down for the sixth time this year.
AERB officials, under whose supervision the material has to be disposed, denied having received any request from the hospital. “No one has approached us. The source has to go back to where it came from,” said S S Bajaj, AERB, chairman, who didn’t know of the waste lying at Lok Nayak.
Dr Banerjee said the hospital advertised for a physicist on April 27. “I am optimistic that we will be able to address this lacuna soon,” he said.
(Inputs from Avishek Dastidar)