The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Radioactive ‘theft’ from Tata plant

New Delhi, Aug. 28: Another industrial camera with enough radioactive iridium to endanger people within a quarter-kilometre radius has gone missing, this time from Tata Steel’s Jamshedpur plant.

The “theft”, discovered yesterday, two days after the Hyderabad blasts, has sent the country’s nuclear regulators into a tizzy because of fears that such radioactive sources could be misused to make “dirty bombs” — or conventional explosives laced with radioactive material.

Experts say such bombs could cause fatalities in the immediate vicinity of detonation, and a range of health complications over a wider area.

In April, an industrial camera was stolen from a factory in Uttar Pradesh.

The cameras, which have a core of iridium 192 with a casing of depleted uranium 235, can cause cancer in anyone who rips the protective shell.

Sources in the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) said experts, armed with a sensitive survey meter, are being rushed to Jamshedpur “immediately”.

Biswajit Sarkar, who heads the Jamshedpur-based General Industrial Inspection Bureau, which owns the camera and was using it to check for industrial wear and tear at the plant, said they had worked till late on August 25.

“We then padlocked the camera at an AERB-approved pit dug below the ground, only to find the lock broken and the camera stolen on Monday.”

While the first lost camera had a curie strength of 50, which could give off radiation of 25,000 milliroentgen, causing cancer among people within a half-kilometre radius, the second, Russian-made, gadget has a curie strength of 15. If exposed, it could give off 7,500 milliroentgen of radiation, affecting people within a quarter-kilometre radius.

Experts say a mere 100-150 milliroentgen of radiation can cause a miscarriage.

“We can’t say why these cameras are being stolen. No one in India could buy them and then use them. Besides these two cameras, we have had two more thefts in the previous 24 months,” said P. Samuel Mathew, treasurer, National Association on Non-destructive Testing Services Organisation.

The organisation has already taken up the earlier theft with the home minister and even lobbied the Prime Minister and the Lok Sabha Speaker to intercede on its behalf.

“The lost cameras are a lingering worry for all of us,” Mathew said.

Tata Steel officials said they were aware that the camera had been stolen and were asking that police “investigate the matter thoroughly”.

Intelligence sources said they would probe why these cameras are being stolen — not because they fear dirty bombs are round the corner but to rule out the possibility.

Although AERB officials say it would need technologically proficient people to make dirty bombs, radiation terrorism has been a threat ever since al Qaida suspect Jose Padilla was held in America five years ago for his alleged attempts to create a “radiological dispersion device”.

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