The source of the radioactive Cobalt-60 at Mayapuri scrapyard that killed one person and left seven seriously ill from exposure has been traced to a laboratory in Delhi University. As a result, DU stands to lose its license to conduct practical research involving nuclear radiation.
The toxic material, the police said, came from an imported gamma irradiator machine DU's chemistry department stopped using in 1985. It plunked the machine in a room with other scrap and forgot about it for 25 years. On February 26 this year, DU auctioned off the machine and other scrap to dealers in Mayapuri for Rs. 1.5 lakh.
The scrap dealers dismantled the equipment and in the process peeled off the lead covering, exposing themselves to radiation, the police added.
"We showed the victims pictures of the radioactive material," said Sharad Aggarwal, deputy commissioner of police (west). "One of them recognized it and told us he had bought it in an auction from DU."
"We will first cancel DU's licence and then decide on other penal action," Dr S S Bajaj, chairman, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, told HT.
The chemistry department head had switched off his phone and was unavailable for comment but top Delhi Uinversity (DU) authorities claimed to be as shocked as everyone else.
"I don’t know if the cobalt-60 source was procured from the chemistry department auction," said vice-chancellor Deepak Pental.
"I will institute an inquiry to see if there was any negligence on their part."
University sources told Hindustan Times that the department had auctioned a lot of old lab material in the last two-three years.
"The department sought special permission from the V-C as a lot of equipment was lying unused for as many as 30 years. We sold off mainly old instruments," said a faculty member who did not want to be identified.
Cobalt-60 is a radioactive isotope of cobalt, a hard, grey metal. It is used in cancer therapy machines and other medical equipment.