Investigators are not denying the possibility of theft of Tritium, or heavy water, in Karnataka’s Kaiga Nuclear Power Plant, as it had to be taken out of a high security area for contaminating a water cooler.
The radioactive substance was found above the prescribed limit in at least 55 employees who drank water from the cooler, which was contaminated between 3 am and 6 am on November 24.
Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials are also trying to find out whether the radioactive material was smuggled out of the plant in Uttara Kannada district, about 500 km north of state capital Bangalore.
A senior official said on condition of anonymity that the Tritiated water was stolen from the operational area and mixed with drinking water by an unknown person.
Although he said it was highly unlikely that the material was taken out of the plant premises, he said the theft could not be denied.
The probe team, comprising IB officials and nuclear scientists, began interrogating the employees, including contract workers, but apparently hit a roadblock after they found that the CCTV cameras, installed near the operations area, did not cover the water cooler.
Tritium is used as a component in nuclear weapons to boost the yield of thermonuclear warheads. A one-megaton thermonuclear warhead may contain as little as one gram of tritium. The commercial demand for tritium is 400 gram a year.
Tritium is also used as a tracer in biological and environmental studies, and as an agent in luminous paints such as those used to make building exit signs, airport runway lights, and in watch dials.
Tritium sells for $15 million (Rs 72 crore) per kg in the international market — more than thousand times the price of gold.
Plant Director J.P. Gupta claimed in a statement that photo passes are issued to all employees after thorough verification. The computerised access control system has a record of all personnel who had entered the operations area.
The investigators also collected fingerprints from the water cooler and were matching them with those found on the biometric attendance devices.
The local police, however, are yet to receive a formal complaint. “No concrete complaint for registering a case has been received yet,” said Inspector General of Police (Western Range) Gopal Hosur.