‘They didn’t know it was still active’
The Department of Chemistry was in need of more space. But the attempt to create the space went awry.
“An increase in the number of seats and faculty members with the implementation of the Other Backward Class (OBC) quota created a need for more rooms. The department wanted to use the rooms that had unused material lying around,” said DU Vice Chancellor Deepak Pental.
The clean-up — in which the gamma cell irradiator carrying Cobalt 60 was sold off as scrap — however, has cost the university its reputation and a man his life.
Pental, who apologised and assumed moral responsibility, said he would request the university community to contribute towards the monetary compensation for the victims.
“No amount can compensate for those affected but this is a little bit that we can do,” he said.
He did not rule out ignorance on part of the faculty. “The machine was bought in 1968. Our professors thought the Cobalt-60 had outlived its radioactive life. They did not realise that it was still active,” added Pental, who has now instituted a three-member probe panel to affix responsibility.
S.C. Pancholi, a nuclear physicist working for the Nuclear Science Centre, N.C. Gumar from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, and B.S. Dwarkanath, a biophysicist from Defence Research and Development Organisation’s nuclear research institute are members of the probe committee
“I do not want to implicate anyone. Our university has a strong desire that this be investigated and recorded. Such accidents shouldn’t happen again,” he said.