Bengal committee to assess radioactive safety

Kolkata: Against the backdrop of the AMRI Hospital fire which had raised the spectre of a radioactive leak, the West Bengal government has set up a high-level committee to assess safety measures in the use of radioactive material in health and research facilities.

The committee has been set up in consultation with the Variable Energy Cyclotron Centre (VECC) which has framed well-defined guidelines to be followed during operation of medical equipment using radioactive material.

State Environment Minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar told PTI, "Any violation of the Standard Operating Procedure, set by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), during use of radioactive material, particularly in health and research laboratories, should be monitored."

Ghosh Dastidar said scientists at the VECC had been asked to see if medical and research facilities in the state using radioactive materials were following instructions of the AERB.

The minister said he had held elaborate discussion with VECC director, R K Bhandari, before setting up the committee which comprised experts of VECC and state government. The committee would submit its report to the state government shortly, the minister said.

VECC and BARC scientists had visited AMRI Hospital at Dhakuria in south Kolkata when the fire destroyed most of the equipment triggering speculation of a spread of radioactive rays from materials allegedly stored in radiology department.

The experts after a thorough inspection dismissed the possibility of any radioactive leak. Ninety-three patients and staff lost their lives in the devastating fire on December nine.

"The regulatory and safety systems ensure that equipment is designed to operate safely. Even in the unlikely event of any failure or accident, mechanisms like plant and site emergency response plans are in place to ensure that the patients and staff are not affected," Ghosh Dastidar said.

Dwelling on the preventive measures, the minister said there were site-specific arrangements involving local authorities to respond to radiation emergencies.

Fortunately, the High Dose Radiation (HDR) therapy machine, recovered by scientists of the VECC under its `Search and Secure Operation` from AMRI, is in safe custody of the VECC, the minister said.

A six-member team of VECC scientists recovered the HDR therapy machine, containing Iridium-192, from the basement of the AMRI annexe building a day after the fire ravaged the building.

Atomic Energy Commission chairman Srikumar Banerjee, VECC Director Rakesh Kumar Bhandari and BARC`s head of health, safety and environment A K Ghosh were in touch with the team, the minister said.

The minister also said that awareness campaign needs to be conducted among those who reside in the periphery of the installations where radioactive materials are used. Besides, those who handle such materials need to be well informed about whom to contact during AMRI-like disasters, he said.