A Radiation Emergency

Often, emergencies which require urgent  action tend to occur at around 6PM, when we are about to close that day’s work!. Radiation emergency is no exception. It was a busy day. We came out of the lecture hall after attending the monthly colloquium organized by the Directorate of Radiation Protection, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). A phone at the far end of the hall  was ringing continuously. Since every one was at the lecture hall, no one attended the call for some time; the caller was impatient.

The call came from the Bombay Port. A package containing some radioactive material oozed out some liquid. According to the description, the package contained 50 mg of radium addressed to a radiotherapy department in Maharashtra. We were convinced that there is no need to worry. Sealed sources of the type described will not release any liquid. But the official at the other end is not convinced. He wanted us to monitor the package urgently.

Workers were agitated. They refused to enter the go-down where the suspect container was  kept. We have to act urgently to prevent further consequences. Workers are very sensitive to any radiation related packages. If we do not intervene urgently, it may lead to industrial action  at the busy port.

Two officers left for the port shortly, with appropriate instruments. They examined the package. While they tilted it, more liquid flowed out. The liquid was not radioactive. They collected a sample for further analysis. The radioactive material was in a proper transport package. They addressed the workers and explained to them the nature of the package. Later, theaAnalysis of the liquid sample at the laboratories at Trombay showed that it was sea water! There must have been some flooding in transit or at the port from where the package came. We tackled the radiation emergency.

The annual report of  1965 contained a few lines about the radiation “emergency”.

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About ksparthasarathy

I am a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. I am a former Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Department of Atomic Energy. Free lance journalism is my hobby
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