The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

The Kaiga Incident

What happened in Kaiga shouldn’t stay in Kaiga

More than 90 workers of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka were poisoned as a result of their water cooler being contaminated with radioactive tritium.  Nuclear Power Corporation’s investigators suspect foul play, which was also corroborated by AEC chairman, Anil Kakodkar.

As with all forms of exposure to radiation, the effects of tritium exposure include mutation of cells, loss of brain weight and genetic abnormalities in future generations.  It is unclear how often the workers are checked for traces of radiation, but the presence of tritium in the 90 Kaiga APS employees was identified on November 24.

Since 99% of tritium is eliminated from the body within 10 days of ingestion, the actual incident could have occurred any time between mid-November and Nov 24.

As word of the incident got out, Manmohan Singh attempted to allay fears by saying, “I’ve been briefed about it, it is a small matter of contamination and is not linked to any leak”. Yes, a small matter of radioactive heavy water contaminating our drinking water.  That Manmohan Singh acted to appeal for calm is one thing, but to do so in such a  bizarre, over enthusiastically dismissive manner sends a poor message to citizens and to domestic and international observers.

As if on key, the media bailed on covering the incident, leaving us at the mercy of the inane, often contradictory explanations being given by the DAE and the AEC, if and when the AEC felt disposed to provide any information at all.

There is little that we know about the incident — the identities of those exposed, the date of exposure, the amount of radiation recorded, or indeed, if all those exposed to tritium as a result of drinking water from the cooler have been accounted for.

The Deccan Herald ran an article which indicated that APS employed over a 1,000 workers and  5,000 contractors, all of whom had access to both the area that stored the tritium as well as the dispenser.  Sadly, this is the kind of flippancy that has typified our approach to nuclear safety.

This isn’t the first radioactive leek or safety breech at an APS in India, nor will it be the last if this sort of trivialization of the safety of workers and those in the immediate neighborhood persists.  In the Kalpakkam APS alone, there were three major instances of heavy water leeks in 2003, 1999, 1988.

If the Prime Minister is really serious about delivering on his promise of “good governance” after the victory in the general election this past May, he should constitute a review not only of the Kaiga incident but also all aspects of APS operation and management, including safety and handling procedures, physical security, isolation and access control, recruitment and background checks.

The usual dismissive, dubious attestations of the DAE simply won’t do anymore.

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Filed under: Congress I, Energy, India, Nuclear Energy, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Responses

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by prasanna m and The Filter Coffee, Chaitanya S. Chaitanya S said: RT @filter_c: [Blog] The Kaiga nuclear incident. What happened in Kaiga shouldn't stay in Kaiga. http://u.nu/34q54 [...]

  2. [...] Filter Coffee writes about a recent disaster in the Kaiga Nuclear Atomic Power Station in Karnataka, India and complains [...]

  3. That is bad. I guess they should close down the Kaiga nuclear atomic power station.

  4. [...] The Kaiga Incident] The Filter Coffee demands to know what happened at [...]

  5. Hari Batti says:

    Another reason why we should think twice before we imagine a nuclear future. We don’t yet have systems in place to properly dispose of our cfl bulbs, which contain mercury; we take toxic ships to break by hand on our beaches; the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal is still leaking poison 25 years on–what makes us think we can handle nuclear waste safely? As it turns out, this incident suggests we can’t even handle the stuff safely before it becomes waste! The best kind of nuclear power we could invest in is the fusion reaction located 150 million km from here: the sun! That’s a safe distance; and it has a proven track record of reliability!

  6. thefiltercoffee says:

    @Hari Batti: Interesting arguments. We shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket though. Nuclear energy should be as much a part of our energy repertoire as solar energy. Both require sizable outlays of capital for infrastructure development and acceptance. Both have benefits and shortcomings.

    Insofar as nuclear safety is concerned, security must be woven into to every aspect of our nuclear program. That is isn’t at the moment should be the reason to back away from nuclear energy en masse.

    Rather, as the article points out, safety & handling reviews must be conducted and recommendations incorporated into the existing and several to-be-built APSs.

  7. Hari Batti says:

    Hey thanks for the reply. It’s going to be tough to convince me that nuclear is worth all the risk that goes along with it. From the mine to the dump it’s a dirty stuff and it lasts for so long. Nobody wants it in their backyard anywhere in the world, and as a result, it tends to end up in places where people with little power live–usually poor people.

    We clearly need alternatives to coal. I think conservation by the big users will be part of that. Wind and solar (low tech as well has high) too. But I’m not telling you I’ve got it figured out. Still, there are a lot of other things I’d want us to invest in before we go too much further down the nuclear road. There’s an interesting article over at Suvat Kher’s place on carbon sequestration (sp?) (http://suvratk.blogspot.com/2009/11/speeding-up-mineral-reactions-to-fight.html) He says it’s not viable now, but who knows, down the road?

    Having said all that, I’d rather have responsible nuclear power than irresponsible nuclear power. So I’m glad you are advocating for that!

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