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Mayapuri scrap market still in danger, says Greenpeace

Bindu Shajan Perappadan and Priscilla Jebaraj

NEW DELHI: The Mayapuri scrap market here is still a danger zone, with some hotspots registering radioactivity that is up to 5,000 times higher than normal, according to Greenpeace radiation experts.

The scrap market has been the centre of a radioactive scare over the last two months since a local dealer bought and dismantled radioactive equipment, originally from the Delhi University, resulting in the death of one person and hospitalisation of seven others.

Greenpeace is now questioning official assurances that the market has been freed of contamination.

On Friday, two radiation experts from the international NGO used monitoring devices to comb an area of about 400 metres by 200 metres around Shop No.32, where the original source of Cobalt-60 was found.

“We found six hotspots, each only about 10 centimetres wide, with dangerously high concentrations of radioactivity. At two places, the radiation dose level is 5,000 times higher than natural background levels,” said Jan Vande Putte, a Belgian Greenpeace radiation expert.

Mr. Putte explained that a worker squatting at the hotspot for two hours would receive as much radiation as the annual permissible limit according to the Indian law. Such levels would not cause acute sickness or immediate death, but if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin, it could lead to cancer years later, he added.

While other areas near the shop show radioactivity only about 200 times higher than normal, this would still mean that workers and residents could cross permissible radiation limits within a week.

The Greenpeace team marked the hotspots with tape and white concrete and warned workers, besides informing the local police authorities and officials of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. “The AERB did not negate what we found,” said Karuna Raina, nuclear campaigner with Greenpeace India. The “AERB has assured us that they will come and decontaminate.”

This is an urgent, but easy task, says Mr. Putte. “It is only a matter of scanning the area and removing a few kg of soil to deal with the hotspots and end the immediate risk to workers. But if you wait and let the radioactivity spread, the situation becomes far more complicated,” he warned.

In a Spanish incident in 1998, particles from a radioactive source dispersed over the sea to three other countries before it was checked.

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