Radioactive buttons in lifts in France traced to India

Radioactive buttons in lifts in France traced to India

New Delhi: The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of India, or AERB, on Thursday confirmed that the radioactive scrap metal that found its way into buttons installed in Otis Elevator Co. lifts in France had been traced to a foundry in Maharashtra.

At least four Indian firms were involved in the manufacture of the components, an official said, but it was still unclear where the contaminated scrap originated.

“We are tracking back the whole chain," said Satya Pal Agarwal, head of the radiological safety division at AERB, the country’s atomic safety body.

“We have a cooperation agreement with France’s Nuclear Safety Authority, which informed us about the incident. There is a foundry near Khopoli on the way to Pune from Mumbai called Vipras, which melted this scrap," said S.K Sharma, chairman, AERB.

French firm Mafelec delivered thousands of lift buttons to Otis, which installed them in at least 500 lifts in the country over the summer.

Otis has said it is now in the process of removing the buttons, after the Nuclear Safety Authority announced on Tuesday that 20 workers who handled the lift buttons had been exposed to excessive levels of radiation. The French nuclear safety agency said the buttons contained traces of radioactive Cobalt 60.

The components used by Mafelec were supplied by two Indian firms—Bunts and Laxmi Electronics—which purchase inputs from SKM Steels Ltd. SKM Steels, in turn, worked with foundry Vipras Casting, Agarwal said.

Vipras said that in this particular case, SKM Steels had provided it the scrap to convert into bars.

But SKM Steels vice-president Girish Chaudhary, who deals with exports, denied it. “We are not the source of the scrap. We have purchased it from Vipras," he said.

While it is not mandatory for Indian foundries to install radiation detectors to check scrap, the government is putting in place radiation monitors at ports to check cargo.

AERB insists that port checks are only the first step of precaution and foundries need to put in place radiation detectors for which the training can be provided by AERB.

“We are just about 200 people and it is difficult to check each and every foundry in the country," Sharma added.