Early this morning, a team of two radiation experts from Greenpeace began a combing operation at the Mayapuri scrap market and discovered that, despite official assurances that that market is free from contamination, there is still radioactive contamination which poses a severe health threat to local people.

Mayapuri scrapyard has been at the centre of a health scandal after a local scrap market dealer was found to be suffering from severe radiation sickness.  The Greenpeace investigation has identified at least 6 hotspots with one registering more than 5000 times natural background radiation levels. Greenpeace has identified and marked the contaminated areas and has shared information with local people and the concerned authorities.

“We came here to verify whether the claim made by the government guaranteeing that this area is safe is really true. The fear and doubts in the locality is palpable and unfortunately today we discovered that the area is still contaminated with radioactivity and that local workers are still being exposed to unacceptable levels of radiation. We consider these failures as a serious breach of nationally and internationally accepted procedures”, said Karuna Raina, Nuclear campaigner, Greenpeace India.

The Greenpeace team, with the help of radiation monitors such as an identiFINDER gamma spectrometer and a RadAlert gamma dosimeter, scanned the area around one of the shops where the cobalt 60 pencils were recovered. The claims made by the government have been proven to be false.

The survey results show that there are extremely high levels of radioactivity in localized hotspots, a person is squatting in these areas would be exposed to unacceptable radiation risks in excess of the annual dose limit according to Indian standards. For example, in the hotspot with 5000 times background radiation, a person would receive the maximum permissible annual dose of 1 millisievert in just a matter of 2 hours. “While the risk in the hotspots is severe, the solution is simple as the hotspot can be decontaminated very quickly by properly trained and equipped inspectors”, said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace Radiation Safety expert. “The authorities should immediately decontaminate the hotspots and do a thorough survey of the other shops as well. We have shared all the relevant information with the workers in the area to ensure that there is no panic created.”

 “This is the consequence of a flawed policy that makes the nuclear regulating body subordinate to institutions that promote nuclear technology in India.  This clear conflict of interest allows for transparency and accountability to be compromised. India is gravely unprepared for the planned massive expansion of its civilian nuclear program”, said Ms. Raina.

Making a link to the contentious Civilian Nuclear Liability Bill that was introduced in the midst of a walk out by the opposition parties in parliament and is now before the Congress led standing committee on Science and Technology, Raina noted that accidents like the one that happened in Mayapuri are not covered by the bill. Greenpeace has been campaigning against the unconstitutional clauses in the Bill including an attempt to cap liability. “This incident highlights the need for a rigorous study of the risks involved in operation of nuclear power plants. There must be a vigorous and informed public debate and relevant opinions ought to be gathered by the parliamentary standing committee for science and technology that is examining the bill. Otherwise it would be a mockery of safety and justice”

(All photographs © Sudhanshu Malhotra / Greenpeace)