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  OPINION  
     
 
   
  Mystery accidents
     
  Credible probe into nuclear safety called for  
     
  THE report about a fire on December 29 in a chemical laboratory of the
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, claiming the lives of two young
scientists, comes as yet another addition to a long list of
nuclear-related mysteries that may never be resolved.

The first of the two elements of mystery in this case is that the fire broke out in broad daylight just a kilometer from the Barc's nuclear
reactors, or in a supposedly high-security area. Secondly, as Barc
director and Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) chairman Srikumar Banerjee
has pointed out, the accident occurred despite the absence of any
inflammable material in the modular laboratory.

The mystery ran deeper and had more dimensions in the previous case
reported from the Kaiga nuclear complex, reported in detail only days
after its occurrence on November 24. We did not know then who had spiked the drinking water in the cooler for about 50 employees treated subsequently for increased levels of tritium in their urine. We did not know, for sure, whether it was a case of sabotage or not. We still do
not know.

The same can be said about the unending string of accidents in and
around nuclear installations across the country down the decades. We
are still in the dark about many aspects of the near-meltdown of 1993 in the Narora atomic power station. We are not any the wiser about the incident of 1991 in the heavy water plant of Rawatbhata. Hard
questions have been left unanswered about the strange happenings in a host
of nuclear complexes, including Kalpakkam.

There never was any mystery, however, about what would follow such
incidents. Every time, we would be told first, and without any fussy
investigation, that the incident did not pose any radioactive threat.
Every time, we would be assured of an exclusively internal inquiry.
Without an exception, the matter would, then, be closed.
Nosey-parkers would be told not to pry too much into matters involving
"national security".

The one time an internal inquiry promised some results, perhaps, was after the Narora accident. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), then under A. Gopalakrishnan, produced a confidential report on safety issues. He revealed later that the "rectifications"
recommended in the report were not carried out for "several reasons".

It is high time an independent, expert review of the entire safety
question in our nuclear complexes is conducted and its conclusions are
shared with the very legitimately concerned public. This should be
done before the nation is thrust into a "nuclear age" with all
attendant and, thus far, unaddressed risks.
 
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