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Investigators quiz Kaiga employees

Mahesh Kulkarni  |  Karwar 

About 50 employees are being interrogated.

The Kaiga Atomic Power Station (KAPS) authorities have commenced investigation to identify the person responsible for poisoning the drinking water dispenser at the premises with radioactive isotope Tritium, a senior official said today.

About 50 employees of the state-run KAPS, about 51 km from the Karwar coast, are being interrogated by the investigation agencies to identify the suspect.

“All the persons are allowed to enter the plant premises with valid photo passes only. The entry to the plant areas is through biometric radio frequency identification (RFID)-based smart card system. The computerised access control system has a record of all the personnel who have entered the operating island. We will find out the culprits,” KAPS director, J P Gupta told reporters at the plant facility.

Besides the state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the investigation is being carried out by the Kaiga atomic team. In spite of the district administration and police department offering help in the investigation, the Kaiga authorities have not responded so far, Uttara Kannada deputy commissioner N S Channappa Gowda told Business Standard.

“The KAPS authorities have not even filed any formal complaint (FIR) with the state police. It is a high security zone watched by the federal security teams and unless they ask for our assistance formally, we can not even enter their premises,” he said.

Gupta said he had given the names of persons who were present in the first reactor unit on November 24, when the incident occurred, to the central and state investigation agencies.

Clarifying that Tritium contamination was not fatal and that the affected employees were not exposed to excess radiation, he said that of the total workers affected by radiation, only one person was found to be near the permissible limit of 30 ml, while the rest of them were far below the limit.

However, in Mumbai, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) Chairman and Managing Director SK Jain said at a press meet today that two employees of the Kaiga nuclear power plant had higher-than-normal radiation levels as a result of the contamination.

“The radiation in the two employees is well below the level which causes illness or irreparable damage to the body,” Jain added.

Out of the 50 employees suspected of having higher radiation levels in the body, 48 had been discharged. Jain added that all four units of the power plant were working normally.

“Within hours after the affected employees displayed abnormal symptoms, we administered medicine to flush out the contamination in the drinking water by giving a stomach-wash to each of them,” Gupta stated.

Though the 220-Mw first unit has remained closed for biennial maintenance since October 20, about 55 radiation workers who were doing the work were found to be affected after they consumed the contaminated water from the cooler. Immediately, the cooler was isolated and put out of use.

Tritium, also known as Hydrogen-3, is used in research, fusion reactors and neutron generators.

“It is for the investigation agencies to find out how the vials of heavy water (Tritium) from the reactor found their way into the water cooler and who could have been behind it,” Gupta pointed out.

Noting that the sensitive plant was safe and secure from intrusion or outside threat, he said the unit had fool-proof security and stringent procedures were followed to screen the employees and contract workers when they entered the premises.

“Thorough checks are conducted on those entering and leaving the premises to ensure no radioactive or any other object is taken out,” Gupta added.

KAPS authorities continued to remain ambivalent about the genesis of the incident and declined to respond to media queries on how the incident took place when Unit 1 remained was shut for maintenance works.

(With inputs from Sudeep Jain in Mumbai)

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First Published: Tue, December 01 2009. 01:27 IST