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.