Experts on Friday safely removed eight bunches of metal scrap containing sources of Cobalt-60 radioactive isotope from a West Delhi shop and transported the material to the Narora Atomic Power Station in Uttar Pradesh. The shopowner and four workers who were exposed to radiation are under treatment.
According to the Department of Atomic Energy, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board — the national radiation regulatory authority — received information from the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital here that Deepak Jain, a scrap dealer from Mayapuri, admitted there on April 4, was showing symptoms of suspected radiation exposure.
On Wednesday, a team of the DAE and the AERB visited the site and monitored emission levels inside the scrap shop and adjoining areas. The shop had a high radiation field. Four adjoining shops also indicated the same levels of radiation.
The team located the radiation sources, isolated one of them and temporarily shielded it with steel scrap to minimise emission levels. “The DAE Crisis Management Group was activated and a team was sent to Delhi with a wide range of radiation monitoring and detecting equipment,” said DAE spokesman S.K. Malhotra.
Shielded containers were brought to carry radioactive material.
Segregation of sources
The search operation continued throughout the night on Thursday and by Friday forenoon, several pieces of radioactive material were located, removed and packed into the containers. Identification of the exact radiation sources would take time; so eight bunches of scrap materials were collected for transportation to the Narora plant for segregation of radiation sources. If necessary, the isolated sources would be taken to Mumbai for further analysis.
Mr. Malhotra said the situation in the affected zone normalised after the radioactive material was removed, and the cordon was lifted on Friday afternoon. “The DAE-AERB team carried out the entire operation under police protection,” he said.
Using a portable spectrometer, the radionuclide responsible for the high radiation field was identified as Cobalt-60 isotope. “Such sources are used in radiography, nucleonic gauges for thickness measurement and in medical applications,” said Mr. Malhotra.
B. Bhattacharya, member of the National Disaster Management Authority and former Director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, said a six-member team comprising a doctor from the R.K. Puram-based emergency response unit of the BARC and an NDMA team also visited the site, besides 10 experts from the Narora plant.
The local police have registered a case under Section 336 of the Indian Penal Code (endangering life or personal safety of others). “Investigations are on to fix responsibility and ascertain the origin of the radioactive material,” said a police officer.
Meanwhile, Deepak's condition is said to be serious. His workers — Ram Jeevan, Ram Kalap, Rajender and Gorakh — who were admitted to the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Hospital on Thursday, have been referred to the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences.
Deepak's brother-in-law Sunil Jain said: “His health started deteriorating about a fortnight ago. He saw some specialists after which he was admitted to a local hospital on Thursday. He was then shifted to the Apollo Hospital as his condition deteriorated.”
“Deepak's friend Himanshu, who runs an adjoining shop, also complained of similar symptoms and was taken to the AIIMS on Friday,” he said.