Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Kaiga: Question mark over nuclear safety


The poisoning of more than 90 workers with radioactive tritium at the Kaiga nuclear power station is a serious safety violation, which calls for a critical look at India's nuclear power programme. The way the episode came to light, and the manner in which the authorities, from plant managers to the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, to top officials of the Department of Atomic Energy, responded to it is a disturbing tale in itself.

The tritium ingestion was noticed on November 24 only after its effects had become manifest in abnormal levels of the isotope found in the urine of 92 plant workers, of the 800 tested. The plant managers admitted to the incident only after it caused public concern and the media reported it. Although they called this a "malevolent act", they didn't report it to the police for a week. The police aren't convinced this was the first occurrence of its kind at Kaiga.

We still don't know precisely how and for how long the workers' internal exposure to tritium occurred, what was the concentration of tritium in the water-cooler (which was allegedly deliberately spiked with tritium), and how many people drank the water. All that the Nuclear Power Corporation, which operates the Kaiga reactors, said is that two workers received a dose exceeding the 30 millisievert maximum limit stipulated by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. This is a general limit for radiation, not specific to tritium, a highly toxic substance for which different measures such as Curies or Bequerels per litre are usually prescribed the world over.

Read more

No comments: