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Radioactive theft material in India alarms US, IAEA
Latest incident of DSP puts question mark over abilities of Indian’s CISF | 16 serious nature cases of nuclear thefts reported in since 2001

From Christina Palmer & Ajay Mehta

NEW DELHI – The US nuclear experts and the officials of IAEA are much alarmed over the constant cases of radioactive material from a number of defence and civilian nuclear facilities across India after the latest case of radioactive isotope cylinders going missing from a steel plant in Durgapur district of India, reveal the latest finding of the investigations of The Daily Mail.
According to these investigations, radioactive isotopes stolen from inside SAIL’s Durgapur Steel Plant a few days ago were found dumped in a community washroom of a slum adjacent to the plant on 16th of this month. The police booked one scrap dealer on a charge of pilferage.
The disappearance of the radioactive material had raised fears of a repeat of last year's Mayapuri incident, in which a Delhi scrap dealer had died after coming into contact with radioactive waste.
These investigations further indicate that a four-member team of senior scientists headed by Dr Debashis Sen from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) had arrived in Durgapur two days back to help in investigation of the incident, and recovery of the missing capsules, containing radioactive material protected under the provisions of the Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board.
The Daily Mail’s finding reveal that scientists were sent to Durgapur after the Durgapur Steel Plant authorities informed the Indian Ministries of Steel and Environment & Forest about the loss of the radioactive material.
The radioactive material, according to DSP officials: “Are deadly harmful for human beings and are supposed to be preserved in a secure environment.”
The DSP’s Quality Control department imports radioactive isotopes of Cesium 137 (0.56 Micro Electron Volt) & Cobalt 60 (1.33 MeV) for level measurement of finished products.
Senior plant officials, scientists and police express surprise how the hyper-sensitive isotope capsules could be pilfered from inside the plant which is under strict surveillance of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).
The plant is guarded round the clock by a force of more than 1500 CISF security personnel.
The district police were informed about the mysterious disappearance of four isotope cylinders two days ago. Dr AK Roy, GM, Quality Control, of DSP lodged a complaint at Durgapur police station.
The OC, Durgapur Mr Shankha Biswas, acting on a tip-off, raided the slum area adjacent to the plant’s main gate, accompanied by the BARC scientists and recovered the radioactive capsules today.
A scrap dealer, Sheikh Tauhid, was arrested for possessing the isotope capsules.
The BARC scientists identified the radioactive material with the help of a Geiger counter.
Mr S Sinha Sarkar, ASP, Durgapur, said: “From what we have learnt, the capsules were 40 per cent used and had enough potential to cause harm to the community.” Investigations are on, he said.
In April last year, a scrap dealer died and several others were taken ill after coming into contact with radioactive Cobalt 60 material at Mayapuri in Delhi, that was later traced to the Chemistry Department of Delhi University.
The Daily Mail’s findings indicate that the DSP case is not the first time that there has been an accident involving radioactive material in India. Some incidents have received press attention and are widely known; others arenot.
The Daily Mail’s investigations indicate that a ‘Radiation Facility’ is defined by the AERB as ‘Any installation/equipment or a practice involving use of radiation-generating units or use of radioisotopes in the field of research, industry, medicine and agriculture’
A review of ‘unusual occurrences’ contained within the AERB’s annual reports reveals that there have been 16 cases of loss, theft or misplacement of radioactive sources across India since 2001, in which radioactive material found its way into the environment. In 11 of these incidents, the source was never found.
Details of each are listed below:
August 2009 An industrial radiography device containing an unidentified radioactive source fell from a moving vehicle during transport from Pune to Mumbai. The device was picked up by a group of young people and taken to a nearby village. It was recovered the following day.
September 2008 A radiographer boarding a train at Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station in New Delhi carrying an Industrial Gamma Radiography Exposure Device (IGRED) reported that it was stolen from him. The device, and the 74 GBq Ir-192 source within, were never found.
May 2008 Loss of a decayed Ir-192 radiography source (925 kBq) from Perfect Metal Testing and Inspection Agency in Kolkata. The AERB’s report does not mention if the source was recovered.
January 2009 An employee of Wens Quality Assurance Pvt. Ltd in Chennai steals an unspecified radioactive source and throws it out. The AERB located the source and stated that the company would receive no regulatory consent for three months.
April 2007 A 1.85 TBq Ir-192 source contained within a radiography camera was reported stolen at Jagadishpur, 90 km from Lucknow. Despite extensive searching, the
AERB were unable to locate the material.
August 2007 An IGRED containing a 0.6 TBq Ir-192 source was stolen from General Industrial Inspection Bureau in Jamshedpur. The source could not be recovered ‘inspite of extensive search operations by using high sensitivity radiation survey instruments’.
2006 A trainee radiographer and his assistant left an IGRED containing a 0.5 TBq Ir-192 source in an auto rickshaw. The machine was never recovered.
This situation has put the US in a very odd situation as it has recently signed a huge civilian nuke deal with India that has now clearly emerged as completely incapable of handling the matters related to nuclear weapons and infrastructure. The Australian government, owing to the situation, had just a few days back, strongly refused India’s request for Uranium export from Australia to India.

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