Teachers informed physics department head and VC, but no action was taken: source

Seven teachers in the Delhi University Department of Physics and Astrophysics wrote a letter in February that a radioactive source room in the department had got flooded and the Head of Department was orally apprised of the situation, but no action was taken, it has been alleged.

A university source said a hot lab in the Department had reportedly been flooded with water this January-end.

“The hot lab contained radium-beryllium (Ra-Be) sources that produce neutrons and mutate other sources. The Ra-Be sources were stored at the ground level. The entry of water in the lab may imply that the Ra-Be sources could be damaged and cause the water and the air in the lab and also the soil to be radioactive. The Head of Department was verbally informed of the matter in the beginning of February, following which a letter signed by seven teachers was sent to him on February 19. A copy was also sent to the Vice-Chancellor,” the source said.

“The source for the neutron generator is Ra-Be. After consulting several people at the Inter University Accelerator Centre, Delhi, and the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre, Kolkata, we have come to learn that the radium-based source had been banned by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre few years ago because of the emission of radon gas which is harmful,” the letter said.

“The glass container of the Ra-Be source is broken and most probably the radium palette is already immersed in water … which poses severe threat of radiation leakage and contamination of the surroundings. Therefore, we request you to send an official letter to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre's radiation safety department for necessary action,” the letter said.

It has been alleged that before the arrival of AERB personnel on the campus recently, nobody had come to investigate the laboratory.

Professor S.K. Mandal of the Department of Physics and Astrophysics said: “We are taking the help of the AERB in segregating isotope sources which are available in the department — some of them are dead and some have very low life.”

The AERB would also look into the matter of the hot lab, he said. Allegations have also been made that some teachers in the department were handling radioactive sources in an unregulated and irresponsible manner.

Meanwhile, following the visit of an AERB team to the campus on Saturday to probe the radiation leak, AERB Secretary and Information and Technical Services Division Director Om Pal Singh said: “We will give details about it in a day or two. It is difficult to comment on the matter prematurely.”

“One AERB person is always present in Delhi. If needed then more persons are sent,” Dr. Singh added.

Speaking about the AERB team visit, Vice-Chancellor Deepak Pental said: “The team is free to go wherever it wants in the university. However, I have not heard of their reporting any problem yet. Teachers too are following due procedures, but I would like to hear the same being said by an independent regulatory body.” He, however, could not state how long the AERB team would take to complete its work.