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Cancer cloud on nuclear centre

Chennai, Dec. 10: The nuclear facilities at Kalpakkam are in the eye of a storm following a recent report on the deaths of three persons from “multiple myeloma” — a rare form of bone cancer.

Officials at the Kalpakkam facilities, about 55 km from here, and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai, under whose control the Kalpakkam nuclear centres fall, have confirmed that two of their former employees had died, but were not aware of the death of a woman in the Kalpakkam township.

They, however, denied that the deaths of Mohandas — of the Madras Atomic Power Station — and Ponniah — of the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) — were caused by overexposure to radiation.

Mohandas had taken voluntary retirement two years ago and died of cancer later. “But that cancer death was not proved to be due to radiation exposure in the plant,” said a senior IGCAR official. He added that Ponniah had died two months ago after retirement, but denied knowledge about the death of the woman in the township.

“The deaths could have been caused by cancer, but not all cancer deaths within Kalpakkam and its vicinity are necessarily due to radiation exposure from the plant or the other facilities,” said an official.

An associate director of the Nuclear Recycle Group under whose control the Barc facilities at Kalpakkam fall said he was “not aware of any employees dying” due to radiation exposure. The Kalpakkam facilities are continuously monitored by Barc for its safety levels, he said.

“People tend to link everything to nuclear reactors. People can die of cancer, but it may not be due to this (radiation exposure),” the official said.

“There has been no death at Kalpakkam, either radiation-related or radiation-induced cancer, as far as I know in recent months,” asserted the Barc official.

The Kalpakkam facilities, including the nuclear waste management plant, “are directly under our control and no incident as reported has taken place now,” he said. There had been no “nuclear incident” since the January overexposure, he added.

In January, six workers at the nuclear reprocessing plant at Kalpakkam were overexposed to radiation, sparking international criticism of India’s nuclear power programme.

“But that problem has no correlation to these alleged developments,” said the official.

None of the six employees overexposed to radiation in January were among those mentioned in the report, pointed out the official.

A senior IGCAR official at Kalpakkam said the deaths of Mohandas and Ponniah were “not a new development” and expressed ignorance about the reason behind the report being put out last week.

The report could have been timed to tie up with the proposed visit of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to Kalpakkam on December 17.

Kalam is scheduled to review the facilities at the complex and the construction of a 500-MW prototype fast-breeder reactor there.

Authorities at Kalpakkam have conducted a detailed study on radiation exposure and the report was released in the first part of this year. However, the issue still remains controversial with critics contesting the report.

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