Kaiga employees quizzed over radiation; ‘nothing to worry’,says PM (Roundup)

Bangalore/New Delhi, Nov 30 (Inditop.com) About 50 employees of the Kaiga atomic power plant in Karnataka were being interrogated by probe agencies after a drinking water dispenser was found contaminated with radioactive Tritium. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has denied any radiation leak in the plant and said there was “nothing to worry about”.

The prime minister, speaking to reporters on board Air India One on his way back from Port-of-Spain, described it as a “small matter of contamination”.

“I have been briefed about it, it is a small matter of contamination and is not linked to any leak,” Manmohan Singh told reporters accompanying him on return from Trinidad and Tobago Sunday night.

“There is nothing to worry. All our systems are intact and under control. An inquiry has been ordered,” he said.

Kaiga director J.P. Gupta told reporters at the plant facility, 500 km from Bangalore, Monday that 50 employees of the state-run facility are being questioned.

“I have given to the central and state investigation agencies the names of persons who were present in the first reactor unit when the incident occurred,” Gupta said.

Besides the state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the probe is being carried out by the Kaiga atomic team and the state police, with whom a complaint (FIR) has been formally registered over the Nov 24 incident.

“We know the antecedents of the radiation employees who were working in that shift. We have their records in the form of biometrics and photo identification cards. It is for the investigators to find out the suspect(s),” Gupta said.

Clarifying that Tritium contamination was not fatal and that the affected employees were not exposed to excess radiation, Gupta said of the total radiation workers, only one person was found to be near the permissible limit of (30ml) while the rest did not have much trace of the radiation.

“Within hours after the affected employees displayed abnormal symptoms, we administered medicine to flush out the contamination by giving a stomach wash to each of them,” Gupta said.

Though the 220 MW first unit has remained shut down for biennial maintenance since Oct 20, the radiation workers who were carrying out the work were found to be affected after they drank water from the dispenser, which was found to be contaminated.

“It is for the investigation agencies to find out how the vials of heavy water (Tritium) from the reactor found their way into the water cooler and who could have been behind it,” Gupta said.

Noting that the sensitive plant was safe and secure from intrusion or outside threat, Gupta said the unit had fool-proof security and stringent procedures are followed to screen the employees and contract workers – when they enter, during their working hours and when they leave the premises.

“Thorough checks are conducted on everyone when entering and leaving the premises to ensure no radioactive or any other object is taken out,” Gupta added.

An official at the plant earlier told Inditop on condition of anonymity that the total number of permanent workers at all the four units is 1,689.

“There will be around 5,000 contract workers engaged in various activities,” the official said.

“Contract workers are of two categories — those who are engaged on a regular basis at the plant and those belonging to the contractors who have undertaken the shutdown-related maintenance work,” the official added.

Prithviraj Chavan, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, said in New Delhi that the government was taking the issue “very seriously” as it was a “breach of some security measures”.

Around 55 employees of Kaiga had to be hospitalised after drinking water contaminated with radioactive Tritium (heavy water) on Nov 24. Most of them were discharged after treatment.