Mumbai / Kaiga: In a shocking incident of sabotage, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) on Sunday said radioactive tritium was “deliberately” put in a water cooler at the high-security Kaiga nuclear power plant, exposing around 50 workers to increased levels of radiation.
“Somebody deliberately put the tritiated water vials into a drinking water cooler. Therefore, we are investigating who is behind the malevolent act,” AEC chairman Anil Kakodkar said in Mumbai.
Describing the incident as a serious operating procedure lapse, he said the people involved will be punished under the Atomic Energy and other Acts after investigation.
In New Delhi, minister of state for atomic energy Prithviraj Chavan said an inquiry is already in progress. It has to be seen whether it was an act of a “disgruntled” individual, Chavan said, adding, “We will find answers soon.”
Forty-five to 50 employees working in the first maintenance unit of the Kaiga plant in the Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka were treated at the plant hospital in Mallapur for increased levels of tritium after they drank water from a cooler in the operating area on 24 November, official sources said. Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, is used in research, fusion reactors and neutron generators.
Probe initiated: Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar. Scott Eells / Bloomberg
The plant’s station director J.P. Gupta said on phone from Kaiga that during investigations one of the water coolers was found to be contaminated and, as a precautionary measure, body samples of all the persons working in the area were analysed; based on those results, a few were sent for medical consultation.
He said Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd has launched a probe by an experts’ committee and the incident has also been reported to the intelligence department.
Chavan said: “It was not a nuclear leakage accident, not even a nuclear incident, and not even a question of anything going wrong in the process of the nuclear power plant... I spoke to Dr Kakodkar, there is no need to panic.”
Chavan said even if it was an act of a “disgruntled individual”, it has to be looked into and an inquiry is in progress.
“We will find answers soon,” he said, adding: “I am told by the people inside that it is not a very serious contamination and the system will be cleared in a couple of days. But whatever has happened, has to be taken very seriously. We are, of course, worried about the safety of the individuals.”
Chavan, however, gave an assurance that there won’t be any harm to the people who drank water from that particular cooler. “They are being looked after medically.”
The minister said, prima facie, it looked like a deliberate act. “Now who was that person? How did the person get access, and was it somebody working in the laboratory, are the things being looked at.”