Atomic board scours for missing Cobalt pencils

Atomic board scours for missing Cobalt pencils

Pursuit of radioactivity

Atomic board scours for missing Cobalt pencils

Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) officials are scrutinising the university’s as well as their own records to find out how many Cobalt-60 pencils were purchased by Delhi University in late 1968 when it procured the gamma irradiator machine.

Prior to the establishment of AERB in 1983, all its records related to nuclear safety were maintained by the Directorate of Radio Protection (DRP) at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai. It is obvious that DRP gave the necessary permission to DU to make the purchases. “DRP was the nodal agency in the 1960s. But after AERB was created all papers were submitted to it,” H S Kushwaha, head of the health and safety group at BARC told Deccan Herald.

AERB secretary Om Pal Singh said the agency has the papers but it will take some time to go through them and match them with the relevant documents kept at the university. The gamma irradiator machine has a cylindrical cage with many slots. Depending on the level of radioactivity required for an experiment, those slots can be filled with Cobalt-60 pencils.

In the first round of search in Delhi’s Mayapuri scrap yard last month, AERB found five such pencils. It is entirely possible that more pencils are out in the open. The pencils were examined by the Board of Radiation and Isotope Technology, which manufactures radio isotopes in India. BRIT concluded that the pencils were manufactured abroad.

“Screening of the Mayapuri scrap yard by AERB will continue with support from BARC and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). I cannot say how long it will take unless we have complete information from the university,” said B Bhattacharjee, former BARC director and member in charge of nuclear issues at NDMA.

‘Core’ issue

* Search on to determine the number of Cobalt-60 pencils purchased by the university

* Prior to AERB’s birth in 1983, all records pertaining to nuclear safety were with Directorate of Radio Protection, Mumbai, which later transferred them to the agency

* The five Cobalt-60 pencils found at Mayapuri were tested by the Board of Radiation and Isotope Technology