This week, questions were raised on India’s national regulations on radioactive waste disposal after a scrap dealer and six of his employees in the national capital were hospitalised with severe Cobalt-60 poisoning. The Mayapuri area of west Delhi became a ticking time bomb of sorts with new cases of radioactive poisoning being reported every day. All 800 shops in the scrap market were scanned and 10 sources of radioactive Cobalt-60 were found.
The sad part is India does not yet have a proper radiation monitoring mechanism in place. The law does have a cursory provision in the Atomic Energy Act of 1962 but it generally concerns only the mega nuclear projects. This leaves everyone else at potential risk. The Union government’s Department of Atomic Energy (DoAE) and Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) monitor radioactive materials. The procurement and disposal of Cobalt 60 and radioactive sources are regulated by Mumbai-based AERB, which is also responsible for implementing the Atomic Energy (Radiation Protection) Rules, 2004.
The Mayapuri incident has set the Delhi state government thinking though. Ahead of the weekend, it was already talking of amending its waste disposal law by including disposal of radioactive materials in the Bio-Medical Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 1998. The idea is to include radioactive materials used in hospitals in the rule so that monitoring becomes easier. The municipal body would also install radiation detection machines at the border check posts to monitor all incoming material.
The incident has reinforced the need for national regulations as well as a national regulatory body to look into radiation pollution outside of nuclear plants. Also the need for fixing accountability of the state governments to monitor such hazardous wastes dumped out of all possible sources — hospitals, scrap markets, recycling units and state entry points.