Poison leak

Poison leak THE controversy surrounding the leak of radioactive water, the principle component of which is isotopes of the poisonous cesium-137, from the waste immobilisation plant of the 320 mw Tarapur Atomic Power Station at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (barc), may add another shameful chapter in the history of Indian nuclear power industry.

While the government's watchdog body on nuclear safety, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (aerb) shrugged off the incident as a minor one and limited well within the exclusion zone, they also blurted out that radioactive water had in fact been leaking for the last 45 days.

They however, could not explain as to how a dilution tank, as per the plants plans had not been constructed, nor why the residents of affected Ghivali village were not informed about the leak earlier.

The barc, on the other hand, deny that the contaminated water was radioactive, and maintain that there was a "negligible" leakage rectified in a matter of "a few hours". They failed to explain as to why and how the leak occurred in the first place, and the willful oversight of not checking Ghivali for the leak's after-effects. However, the reluctance on the part of the aerb, the barc, and the state administration to disclose the details of the mishap, has raised several eye brows.

A Gopalakrishnan, chairman, aerb, maintained, "The leakage is a result of faulty planning and execution. However, the incident has been blown out of proportion as there had been no release outside the plant. Three-and-a-half tonnes of soil from the nullah, where the treated water is discharged, have been removed from the site and stored for disposal."

He added that the incident rated well below zero, on the international Nuclear Events Scale "as the total radiation dose was well below 100 millicuries". The Chernobyl disaster was 7 on this scale.

Gopalakrishnan insisted that the pit and the drain which showed a radiation field at the time of the leak, was normal. "The details of the incident were not made public as a technical committee is still analysing the data," he said.

Speaking to Down To Earth, barc sources however, denied all allegations. "There was a slight leakage from the waste immobilisation plant, which was contained within a few hours. The plant is used once a month when accumulated water is treated at a time, so there is no question of a 45-day long leak," the barc adamantly claim.

It adds that they have spread vermiculide -- a clay binding naturally with cesium-137 nuclides in the contaminated soil over the area, to absorb any traces that might have escaped the removal.

Dhirender Sharma of the Delhi-based Committee for Sane Nuclear Policy said, "Under the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, no law can question the validity of a statement issued by the Board. They can blatantly lie, and even if one has proof against them; this cannot be challenged in court." He added that this was a matter of national concern.

The amazing regularity with which nuclear plant mishaps have been occurring of late in India, demands a tighter grip on the situation. The incidents at Rawatbhata, Narora, and Kaiga, over the past decade got the alarm bells ringing compelling this need.

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