Source: Hindustan Times , New Delhi, Date: April , 2010
The Mayapuri radiation
incident has for the first time exposed the lack of control on the
usage of radioactive material and raised fears whether the government
is really standing guard against toxic radiation. This is because of
the presence of Cobalt 60 and other highly dangerous radioactive
isotopes that are used widely in industrial radiography, medical
radiology, large food processing units and even laboratories.
And sitting in Mumbai, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and the
Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), who are supposed to "strictly
control" all matters related to radioactive material across India, are
mere paper tigers. The Board relies on users such as hospitals,
industrial units etc, to self-regulate by keeping a Radiation Safety
Officer in their premises.
Through this officer, the BARC
expects the institutions to send them yearly reports on the use of
radioactive material. But here's the catch.
The Radiation Safety
Officer is someone recruited and paid by the institutions themselves
and is merely trained and approved by the BARC. The AERB's rather weak
defence is the claim that it has the sources of procuring the
radioactive material covered. "In India, one cannot get these isotopes
from anywhere other than the government-controlled Board of Radiation
and Isotope Technology (BRIT)," said SS Bajaj, head of AERB. "Those who
import, too, need our certificate.
So we have it all covered."
But Bajaj could not remember when was the last time the AERB either
penalised or even inspected any institute directly.
X-ray machines are the most common source of radiation in everyday
lives," said Deepak Arora, a Delhi based certified radiation physicist.
"It's a huge task to bring in all the X-ray machines under the
" Let alone control, the regulators have not been
able to put in place basic infrastructure to detect pilferage. No city
has gamma zone monitors to catch movement of radioactive material.
No checkpost has any gamma ray detector to nab inter-state pilferage.
"It is a tinderbox situation," said Ravi Agarwal, director of NGO
Toxics Link, the publisher of Half Life, the only publicly available
research material on India's disposal of radioactive waste last year.
"We are sitting on a dump of potential radioactive waste, and the only
mechanism supposed to protect us from exposure is a set of weak
guidelines with glaring loopholes.
" In Delhi there are three to
four large scrap yards processing hundreds of tonnes of
metal/miscellaneous scrap brought from multiple sources. There are also
25 large radioactive machines running in 16 hospitals alone.
Then, there are industries and food processing units.