Rawatbhata: NPCIL Blatantly Lies On Tritium

Anuj Wankhede

Anuj is a Microbiologist, a Masters in Management Studies, an avid environmentalist who believes that bigger the problem, bigger the opportunity.

He can be reached at benchmark.anuj (at)gmail.com and 9757475875

The Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) operates all nuclear power plants across the country. It is government owned, controlled, financed and is the de facto face of the Indian civilian nuclear program.

Unfortunately, NPCIL has made it a compulsive habit to lie about the safety of its nuclear power plants, blissfully unaware that its lies will be exposed and it will forever lose the faith and trust of the Indian people.

Post every incident (sic), NPCIL covers it by either, claiming only a few workers were affected or by blatantly saying the leaks were of a non-hazardous nature.

Last month a tritium leak occurred at Rawatbhata, Rajasthan. It affected 38 people. After hiding the facts for a week, the matter was reported in local media. When DiaNuke.org published it, NPCIL immediately released a statement stating that:

“The uptake occurred due to inadvertent rise in tritium levels in a localized area of the containment building of the Reactor-5.”

In 2009, over 50 workers at the Kaiga generating station in Karnataka were affected after drinking tritium-laced water from a water cooler at the plant. NPCIL was quick to disclaim its responsibility, teeming the incident to “insider mischief.”

The then NPCIL CMD S.K. Jain said contamination caused by heavy water in the human body is “quickly flushed out” through natural biological processes like urination and perspiration and is not a cause for concern.

False and misleading.

Tritium is a radioactive material released in significant amounts in nuclear reactors (and nuclear weapons facilities.)

It has a half-life of 12 years and when inhaled or ingested, it is a cause for cancer.

The NPCIL released a press statement within a couple of days of the Kaiga incident that the affected workers were found to have negligible level of tritium and had resumed work. The same story is repeated at Rawatbhata.

But numerous clinical studies have shown that the mean half-life of tritium in the human body is 10 days.  How then, is NPCIL certifying its workers are safe within a couple of days?

Cases of accidental ingestion of tritiated water in laboratories have been reported and scientifically studied – the most comprehensive one being the one by Lloyd et al (1998) which studied a woman who accidentally ingested tritium laced water through a capillary tube in a lab. After monitoring the woman comprehensively for 11 years, it found that the number of chromosomes had dropped with a half-life of 3.3 years.

(A link to the above and subsequent paragraph can be found here)

Allow me to explain what the study by the California Public Health Goal means to our lay nuclear scientists.

The comprehensive studies on the biokinetics of Tritium show that the levels need to be actively monitored and followed up with intensive treatment at least for the first 10 days (biological / metabolic half life of tritium)

The tritium induced into the body causes the beta particle radiation to the cellular DNA making changes to the chromosomes, which is the primary cause of mutations. In short, the ability of tritium to bind with tissues in the body, change their DNA and chromosomes meaning that it is a known carcinogen. For the uninitiated, this means tritium causes cancer.

The NPCIL says that the workers were exposed to tritium levels within acceptable international norms. Let’s look at international acceptable safe norms –

United States740 Bq/l
WHO10,000 Bq/l
Canada7000 Bq/l
European Union100 Bq/l

(Bq/l – becquerel per liter)

In fact, it is universally accepted that there is no universal safe limit and each country has fixed its own limits to avoid huge litigation/ liability costs.

NPCIL is in august company here. Canada dumped huge amounts of tritium in the Ontario Lake which supplied drinking water to its residents and faced huge consequences. In the US, Exelon has been hit by class action litigation over ground water tritium contamination and had to go for massive settlements.

The maximum environmental discharge of tritium comes from the Canadian made CANDU reactors. Perhaps, that explains the safe limits prescribed by Canadian law!

Incidentally, Rawatbhata and Kaiga are PHWR (CANDU) reactors.

It is acceptable that in every industrial setup, there would be some operational deviations from acceptable standards. After all, the world is not a perfect place.

What is unacceptable is the fact that NPCIL blatantly lies to the public when caught with its pants down. Rather than agree that an accident (not incident) has occurred, it denies the fact and then goes on to trivialize it, brush it under the carpet.

The affected people at NPCIL are invariably “workers,” never employees, meaning NPCIL hires contractual labour to conduct hazardous work and then escapes liability when things go awry.

This is not only dangerous, it is inhuman and shameless. NPCIL can simply terminate the contract or worse, blackmail the affected worker with permanent job loss and no recourse to medical aid.

What would a poor contract worker do? He has to be practical and keep quiet if he wants to retain his earnings.

NPCIL is playing this dirty game at all its plants and the same is done by the UCIL, which mines uranium. It is little wonder that news about the radiation effects on nuclear workers in India is extremely limited.

Further, when the NPCIL itself does not follow labour laws in spirit, does the Indian government have any moral ground to expect this from private companies? It is, in fact, being a role model to other companies involved with hazardous material on how to bend laws!

In case of any unfortunate accident in a private company, the operator there can easily point to NPCIL or UCIL and claim that they follow government accepted norms and are not liable for any claims that arise.

By lying to the public that Indian nuclear reactors are safe, NPCIL assumes that people do not follow scientific work and it can shroud the whole process in mystery.

They forget that they themselves are so ignorant of the medical literature, which conclusively proves that any exposure to radiation at nuclear reactors and its vicinity and beyond are not safe.

I would like to invite the scientists at NPCIL or UCIL for a public debate on the effects of radiation on the cellular cytoplasm, nuclei, body tissues and their genetic effects over subsequent generations. After all, these esteemed nuclear scientists would have taken a biology course at high school and heard of mutations, genetic evolution or Darwin. The effects of changes in DNA do not always show up in the first generation.




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