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Other instances

Published : May 21, 2010 00:00 IST

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CONSIDER the following incidents of radiological significance:

On the night of August 26, 2009, an industrial radiography device of a company fell from a vehicle during transportation from Pune to Mumbai by road at Pimpri. Officials of AERB, with the help of the police, found that the device had been picked up by a group of youngsters and taken to a nearby village. Fortunately, it was recovered safely.

On January 22, 2009, a Chennai-based firm reported the loss of an industrial source. The AERB found that an employee had stolen the device and thrown it away. The AERB could, however, locate it.

On September 9, 2008, a 2 Ci Ir-192 industrial radiography exposure device belonging to a Delhi-based company was apparently stolen from Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station while the radiographer was boarding the train with the device. Despite extensive survey, the device could not be located.

In 2007, two instances of theft of radiography Ir-192 sources of fairly high strength from the source storage pit were reported; one from a fertilizer unit at Jagadishpur near Lucknow and another from TISCO, Jamshedpur.

Despite extensive search at all possible locations, including scrap dealers, the devices in both cases could not be traced. Since these sources were removed from the pit, one would imagine that the sources would not have any protective shielding and thus would be a potential danger to the environment and the public.

In 2006, a fairly high-activity Ir-192 radiography source was lost during transport in an autorickshaw. The source and the accessories were apparently being carried by the radiographer and his assistant to carry out radiography work at a place about 5 km away from the storage site. On the way they changed the autorickshaw. But while doing so, they forgot to shift the device too. Despite extensive search, the device could not be located. Though the device was complete with its shielding and locking mechanism, if it ends up in a scrap market a dealer would try to cut it open and thus expose it to the environment. In this case, authorisation to the agency was withdrawn.

In November 2005, a molybdenum-99 source of moderate strength booked to Chennai by air was not received at the Chennai airport. The consignment was traced after four days at the Chennai airport along with other cargo items.

In May 2005, two Ir-192 sources of moderate activity were stolen from an industrial unit, and the AERB or the police could not locate them. In August 2005, an industrial radiography agency in Navi Mumbai reported that a fairly strong Ir-192 source, along with the flexible pigtail attached for manoeuvring the source, had been stolen. The AERB, with police assistance, found that a person working for another agency had stolen the source and thrown it into the Vashi creek. Extensive search operations with the help of the Navy were carried out but the source could not be located. Not being able to find it, the AERB concluded that the source could have drifted into the sea and that the water shield would provide enough protection to the public.

In July 2002, a radiography camera with an Ir-192 source of fairly high activity, kept in a locked briefcase, was lost while being transported in a public transport bus in which the radiography personnel of an agency were travelling. The AERB officials and the police searched the entire length of the highway that they had travelled but to no avail.

The baggage was either stolen or had slipped out of the rear luggage hold of the bus owing to improper locking, the AERB concluded. Though it was a strong source, the radiation hazard would not have lasted long because of the short half-life (74 days) of Ir-192.

Though these radiography devices are portable, these are relatively heavy. Interestingly, however, individuals seem to manage to steal or pilfer these devices relatively easily. More pertinently, transportation of these devices by public transport vehicles is explicitly prohibited by AERB regulations. But the above incidents indicate that industrial users do not seem to be aware of the potential dangers from the violation of the regulations to the public at large.

R. Ramachandran

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated May 21, 2010.)

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