Life saver has turned into lethal killer. And what's responsible for this undesirable morphing?...Negligence. Delhi University (DU) has admitted just one of them.
Cobalt 60, the radioactive isotope of cobalt, has been mishandled due to sheer negligence of DU authorities. DU bought a "Gamma Irradiator" containing Cobalt 60 pencils in 1968 from Canada. The Gamma Irradiator which was not in use since 1985, landed in the country's biggest scrap market, Mayapuri, through an auction in February this year. The Mayapuri scrap dealers dismantled the equipment and in the process, the lead covering on it was peeled off leading to radiation exposure. With the Irradiator is still radiating carcinogenic and toxic rays from the unsealed radioactive Cobalt 60 pencils. Until it killed a person and hospitalized eleven others, the mass destructor lay there unnoticed, poisoning everyone's life to slow death.
Cobalt 60, if used with proper safety measures and caution could relieve the torturous pain suffered by a cancer patient. Measured doses of cobalt 60 are used for sterilizing medical equipments and source of the radiotherapy for cancer patients. If used with negligence can induce the excruciating pain of cancer. Gamma radiation emitted by Cobalt 60 may have irreparable impact on the genes and lead to genetic disorders in the present and further generations.
Scientists investigating the issue have confirmed that the level of contamination is such that even the land where the machine was dumped need to be excavated to stop further spread of the radiation. They suspect that much more Cobalt 60 pencils are missing than those found. Laborers, dealers and general public of Mayapuri, who have been handling or been exposed to the deadly machine without proper safety measures now live the danger of unknown health disorders. Threat sword has also been hanging on the lives of DU students and researchers.
So, what does DU have to say about this whole calamity? The Vice Chancellor of DU, Deepak Paintal, said he was "extremely sorry for the damage caused". He also said that university officials believed that the machine's radioactive life had expired since it was nearly 40 years old.
With so much knowledge about handling and disposing nuclear wastes and the havoc that may be caused if mishandled, is this what we expect from a premiere educational institute of the country? The life of uncountable number of innocent people has been risked and perhaps endangered. Is taking mere verbal responsibility revert back the far reaching consequences of nuclear radiation exposure? Who owns the responsibility of the safe disposal of nuclear wastes? Who owns the responsibility of educating the public about the hazards of nuclear exposure? Should educational institutions be barred from conducting researches involving nuclear resources? Should the government set up dedicated laboratories and research centers for performing nuclear and atomic researches in India?
And after all the whole commotion about this issue, the machine still lay there in Mayapuri, dismantled. Irradiating life....