India: N-scare after 55-workers at Kaiga Plant fall sick

In a mishap that the authorities are labeling as “an insider’s mischief”, about 55 workers of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Uttara Kannada, Karnataka, India, were exposed to an excessive radiation dosage when they drank water that had been mixed with tritium, a highly radioactive substance. All the workers had to be rushed to hospital for a preventive check-up.

Bloomberg reported, based on an e-mailed statement from Shreyans Kumar Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), which operates the plant, that no worker was hospitalized. Jain in his statement also said that an initial probe didn’t reveal any violation of operating procedures or “radioactivity releases” or security breach. He said that, the systems of all the units are healthy and there is no release of radioactivity to the environment within or outside the plant site. A probe has been launched in the matter. Officials of Intelligence Department as well as state depatment have been informed.

The incident occured on November 25, when the first unit (220 MWe) of the plant was under shutdown for annual maintenance. The officials alleged that “an insider had mixed tritium in drinking water in a cooler kept in the operating island of the first unit” at Kaiga. Unit 1 at Kaiga continues to be under annual maintenance shut down since October 20. Unit 2 and 3 are operating normally. Unit 4 is under construction.

The Union Minister of State for Science and Technology, Prithviraj Chavan, labelled the act “malevolent” and assured that the incident is not an accident but a sabbotage which is being taken “very seriously”.

Tritium is the radioactive form of Hydrogen. If inhaled or consumed via food or water, tritium can lead to cell damage. It also increases chances of cancer. The state-of-the-art indigenously designed 220 MWe pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station attained criticality at Kaiga on September 24, 1999. The site has been selected for having six Reactor Units of pressurised heavy water reactors each of 220 MWe.

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