The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has traced to a Pune unit the lift buttons that were removed from hundreds of elevators in France after they were found to be radioactive. The source of scrap is yet to be found.
Last week, France had asked elevator maker Otis to remove India-made lift buttons from hundreds of elevators after 20 workers were found to have been exposed to radiations.
The exposure was of Level 2 on the one to seven levels of exposure, with one being the lowest.
Sweden, too, has complained of radioactive traces in recycled steel imported from India.
The atomic safety body on Thursday ordered an inquiry to trace the source of radioactive substance in the scrap.
“We have found that Vipras Casting in Pune had manufactured buttons used in lifts in France. We’re trying to unravel the long chain to find the source of the radioactive scrap,” said Satpal Aggarwal, head of the radiological safety unit at the board.
Indian recycled steel is in great demand in the West following a steep rise in international prices. The business is now worth $ 50 billion.
While the business has grown, the country lacks the mechanism to check radioactive hazardous waste from entering the scrap market. “Like western countries, there is no condition for decontamination of scrap in India,” said Gopal Krishna, head of NGO ToxicsWatch.
Apart from local recyclers, a major source of recycled steel is ship-breaking industry in Alang in Gujarat, the second biggest such yard in the world.
The atomic board’s investigations also revealed that the lift buttons sent to France were not checked for radioactivity. “Even the scrap that comes to these unit is not checked for presence of any radioactive material. Similar incidents can happen elsewhere too,” Aggarwal said.
The lift buttons were contaminated with Cobalt 60, produced from decay of minerals like nickel used in industrial jobs. Export of Cobalt 60 is now allowed under International Atomic Energy Agency regulations.