The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) entered into agreements with Maharashtra and Orissa on Monday for forming so-called state-level directorates of radiation safety to strengthen the regulator’s control on medical diagnostic X-ray facilities across the country.
By the agency’s own estimates, nearly 50,000 diagnostic radiology facilities utilizing X-ray units are there in the country and if these X-ray units aren’t designed or operated properly, they could lead to patients and operators being exposed to unwanted radiation.
The initiative comes months after the Comptroller and Auditor General of India had pulled up the regulator in August for being lackadaisical about several practices, including those ensuring that medical equipment emitting radiation were responsibly monitored. Yet there’s little reason to believe that the regulator is as serious as it should be on monitoring such equipment.
Other than Maharashtra and Orissa, it has signed agreements with 8 states: Kerala, Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat and only the directorates in Kerala and Mizoram are functioning. Second, the regulator continues to lay the onus on state governments to ensure that such medical equipment operators comply with norms. Also, there are no details available on how exactly the mere signing of agreements with state authorities will improve compliance.
Without doubt the regulator is stretched to its limits with the kind of responsibilities it must shoulder. There’s an untested reactor—in terms of the design employed—coming up in Kudankulam that’s been under particularly stringent fire since the Fukushima accident. Much of the regulator’s strained resources are being expended to ensure that the plant will be operational at least by the end of this year.
For diagnostic centres, the regulator should have expanded its manpower or ensured that competent state government officers are empowered to conduct checks on the way such equipment is monitored. India’s nuclear establishment has perennially suffered from an image-management issue since its inception. While X-ray scanners don’t evoke the paranoia that reactors do, the manner in which the regulator monitors them certainly affects public confidence in how nuclear reactors are handled. In being less transparent, the regulator may have lost a big opportunity to improve its image.
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