After finding two more samples of Cobalt-60 radioactive material in Mayapuri, scientists from the Department of Atomic Energy said on Thursday that they now had no idea how many people could be out there exposed to radiation poisoning and how much more radioactive material could be lurking in the junk market.
“There could be many more (people) out there. We have no way of knowing,” said SK Malhotra, the department’s spokesman.
The Cobalt-60 samples unearthed this time are much less potent than the ones found last week, and they are of different form as well.
Last week’s radioactive material — total 400 kg of scrap entangled in eight sets of Cobalt 60 wires — had from mid to high levels of radiation.
But Thursday’s discovery had only two sets of scrap containing two Cobalt-60 pencils, used in industrial machines.
“We also do not know yet if the whole bunch came from a single consignment,” he said. “The investigation is on.”
“This thing had the potential of being a national disaster,” said Ravi Agarwal of NGO Toxics Link, which has been advocating safe disposal and management of radioactive waste in the country.
“There is no end to exposure in this case. The driver of the carriage truck, the helpers, the people at the port, everyone could be carrying and also unwittingly spreading the poison,” he said.
On thing that the scientists have been able to say for sure is that the origin of the radioactive material is somewhere abroad as India does not produce Cobalt wires, as was found last week.
Meanwhile, a member of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has advised scrap dealers to buy simple equipment which show the presence of radioactive material and ensure that the material they sell are not dangerous.
“When they buy scrap, they can check it with the instrument. They can also show a buyer that their consignment is radiation-free," said BB Bhattacharya, former director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and member of the NDMA. "They should not wait for or depend on anyone. I advice all scrap dealers to make this small one-time investment.”
NDMA member J K Bansal said the Authority will be doing radiation monitoring by radio biodosimetry which will be done at the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Life Sciences.