Scientists at suburban Trombay-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) said on Tuesday that there was a loud bang in the chemistry lab, after which black smoke billowed out. It was not immediately clear if the bang was caused by an explosion or triggered by a chemical reaction.

No research involving radioactive material is conducted in the multi-storeyed Modular lab in which the chemistry lab was housed, they said.

Two research students died in the fire.

“The fire broke out at 1205 hours in the lab on the third floor of the Modular lab of BARC,” the centre’s director and Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Sreekumar Banerjee said.

BARC fire brigade officials rushed to the spot and doused the blaze within 45 minutes. The fire-fighters later made their way to the lab negotiating broken windows and located the badly burnt bodies.

The laboratory has been cordoned off. The police and forensic experts are conducting investigations.

The chemistry lab stored scientific equipment like Spectrometers for kinetic and spectroscopy measurements. “All these instruments were burnt, but fortunately the fire did not spread to the other labs in the building,” Mr. Banerjee said.

Usually, seven people worked in the lab, but on Tuesday only two were there.

Security has been beefed at BARC following intelligence inputs that the country’s prestigious nuclear facility faced terror threat.

Talking to the media outside BARC, Additional Commissioner of Police Ritesh Kumar and BARC Inspector-General T.P. Das said the bodies of the two PhD research scholars would be taken for post-mortem at the J.J. Hospital.

BARC sources said this was the second such incident in the Modular laboratory in the last 50 years. “A few years back, there was a fire in Mod lab but only one particular lab was damaged and there was no casualty,” they said.

Modular laboratory is a multidisciplinary research facility housing various labs from biology, physics, chemistry health physics to electronics and instrumentation.

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