May 15, 2010

Greenpeace Locates Six Radioactive ‘Hot Spots’

Greenpeace said Friday that it has detected dangerous levels of radioactivity near a salvage yard in New Delhi where a worker was killed last month from radiation poisonings. Seven others were hospitalized. The group said experts sensed radiation 5,000 times above normal levels at the privately owned facility in the city's overcrowded Mayapuri district and nearby areas.

"We picked up six hotspots between 65 and 165 feet from the scrap yard, which means radiation has spread into the streets, which is very dangerous," said Van Vande Putte, a radiation expert with Greenpeace.

At a news conference in the Indian capital, Van Putte said it is urgent that decontamination be started immediately. He said tests were conducted early Friday at the salvage yard, where valuable metals are extracted from old machinery and then sold in India's recycling market.

India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) certified the dump and surrounding area as safe earlier in the month. It said all radioactive materials had been recovered from the unsuitable scrapping of one machine from Delhi University that contained a radioactive metal used for radiotherapy.

Rajendra Yadav, a 35-year-old worker at the salvage yard, died due to multiple organ failure on April 26. Seven others were hospitalized.

The workers in the yard were, in just a few short hours, exposed to radiation levels equal to the annual individual amount permitted by Indian law, said Putte.

The claim adds to the growing concerns over toxic waste disposal methods and safety regulations in India, which plans to gradually switch from coal and oil power to nuclear power.

Greenpeace attacked the AERB for declaring the zone safe.

"It was a case of oversight, negligence and the AERB should have done a better job," Greenpeace activist Karuna Raina told the news conference.

Yadav was given a "shiny piece of white metal" from the machine as a sample to find buyers. Yadav had carried the piece around in his wallet, showing it to potential buyers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was the worst radiation incident worldwide in four years.

Putte said the radiation particles are too small to be seen with the naked eye, but that did not mean they were not lethal. "It may not immediately cause loss of hair or deaths but the risk here is more of developing cancer over tens of years after contamination," Putte warned.