Missing N-waste sparks fresh alarm | delhi | Hindustan Times
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Missing N-waste sparks fresh alarm

delhi Updated: May 01, 2010 02:25 IST
Avishek G Dastidar

The world’s biggest radioactive ‘event’ in four years may just get a whole lot bigger.

Three radioactive Cobalt-60 ‘pencils’ are understood to be missing at the Mayapuri junkyard, declared safe a few weeks ago. Worried scientists resumed their search for the new radiation sources on Friday.

Sources told HT the scientists realised after examining the remains of the irradiation machine from Delhi University — the Cobalt-60 source — that it had more of the radioactive isotope than earlier recovered.

The machine contains 54 slots for Cobalt pencils. While not all 54 slots are filled, such a machine usually has around seven pencils, sources said.

“The search and recovery team earlier found only four,” said a top official of the Department of Atomic Energy, on condition of anonymity.

One of the injured scrap-workers had even kept a pencil in his chest pocket, not realizing what it was, the official said. The resumed search is to “make sure no radioactivity remains in the area,” said Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) chairman S.S. Bajaj. “We have to ensure all the radioactive isotopes are in place,” he told HT.

What could be worrying, according to sources, is that Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) officials have discussed, internally, that there is little chance of finding the missing pencils.

“This means the Cobalt-60 pencils could be anywhere in the area, exposing unsuspecting people,” they said.

The AERB is being assisted by scientists from the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited in the investigation. The scientists have calculated that the missing pencils are still potent as DU miscalculated their shelf life while discarding them and ideally, they should be “dead” only around 2018. The radioactive trail led back to the central university on Friday as one AERB official went on a recce of the campus but fortunately found no alarming levels of radioactivity.

The radiation exposure, termed the world’s most serious since 2006 by the International Atomic Energy Agency, killed one scrap-worker and made seven others seriously ill.