India trashes reports against its nuclear safety

New Delhi, Dec 23 (IANS) Following reports on a US web portal criticising India’s nuclear safety and security records and a US magazine story on a secret nuclear city, the Indian nuclear establishment dismissed the articles as “distortion of facts” and “manipulation of evidence from locals”.

The articles on the website of Center for Public Integrity questioned the safety record at the Jadugoda uranium mine in Jharkhand and the security of India’s nuclear installations.

Sources in the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) said the timing of these reports were suspect as India’s nuclear diplomacy was on a high after signing of civil nuclear agreements with Canada and Australia as well as Japan during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India earlier this month.

Regarding the report that people living near the Jadugoda mine were affected by radiation and suffered from health problems like birth defects, the sources said public safety norms followed at the mine were of the highest standards.

“Even before the Jadugoda mine began production in 1967, environmental survey laboratories were set up,” they said.

According to DAE sources, every worker at the mine is provided with a dosimeter, a device that measures exposure to ionizing radiation.

Following reports of health problems in the area, they said, a team of doctors led by S.S. Ali from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, came and looked into the case histories.

“Their general conclusion was that these were not related to radiation,” the sources said.

As for the report that questioned India’s nuclear guard force, they said India followed the same guidelines issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s International Nuclear Safety Group after the 9/11 terror attacks.

The article mentioned an incident at the Madras Atomic Power Station in October last year in which a Central Industrial Security Force head constable shot dead two people.

“It was a specific incident and did not jeopardise India’s nuclear security,” the sources said.

They said that India followed a multi-layered security arrangement at its nuclear facilities that gets tighter and tighter as one gets to the heart of a nuclear complex.

The sources said the security issue is about “bad guys getting into a facility housing nuclear material” and that could lead to the building of a dirty bomb.

They pointed out that radioactive material can be found in hospitals, especially those treating cancer patients.

A regulatory mechanism for security came into existence in 2003 and standard operating procedures were followed, the sources said.

They said India was part of Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, which is yet to come into force as 13 more countries are required to ratify it.

The DAE sources dismissed as “speculative” the claim in an article in Foreign Policy magazine that India was building a secret nuclear city in Karnataka.

According to an exhaustive report published on December 16 in the magazine, the work on the project in southern Karnataka began in early 2012.

The 14-page report said tribal pastureland was cordoned off with a barbed wire fence at Challakere for “a project that experts say will be the subcontinent’s largest military-run complex of nuclear centrifuges, atomic research laboratories and weapons and aircraft-testing facilities when it’s completed, probably sometime in 2017”.

The project’s primary aim was to expand the government’s nuclear research, to produce fuel for India’s nuclear reactors and to help power the country’s fleet of new submarines, the report says.

The sources said “there was nothing secret about it”.

“Indian Institute of Science, one of the oldest and most venerable scientific research institutions, is setting up a campus there. The Defence Research and Development Organisation and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre are also setting up some of their facilities there,” the sources said.

“It is just a coincidence that these buildings are coming up close to each other,” the sources added.

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