By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov 29: Hyderabad, which meets the uranium needs of all nuclear power plants in the country, is relatively safe from radiation hazards.
Though most of the city-based Nuclear Fuel Complex is not under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, it has developed its own safety mechanism over the years to prevent radiation hazards to its employees and people living in the vicinity.
There have been quite a few instances of mishaps in the NFC since it was set up in 1971, but there's no evidence about the leakage of radiation into the environment. NFC witnessed accidents in the past. The recent one was on November 17, 2002 at its uranium oxide plant. Environmentalists then warned that large dosage of radioactive material was released into Hyderabad air then.
The DAE was quick to obtain a safety certification for NFC to "clear all doubts" in the minds of people about radiation hazard from the plant.
Moreover, a nuclear fuel processing unit like NFC is not as hazardous in terms of radiation leakage as a nuclear power plant. NFC enriches uranium from ore before it supplies to nuclear fuel plants in India.
Currently only a part of NFC is under IAEA safeguards. Now that it has been receiving uranium supplies from other countries, the department of atomic energy is bound to open some more parts of the plant
under safeguards for processing and fabricating the nuclear fuel, according to official sources.
"The adverse effect of sudden exposure to radiation on health is solely decided by the duration of the exposure. If a person is exposed for a brief period, it can cause skin irritation or skin cancer in the worst scenario. However if they are exposed for a longer duration, it can even cause blood cancer, genetic mutations and birth defects in the offspring," warns senior consultant radiologist Dr B Murali.
NFC officials claim that those who had designed NFC took enough care to prevent damage to human health and environment through radiation exposure. To ensure that enough safety mechanism is always in place, the Baba Atomic Research Centre has set up a health physics unit at NFC. It carries out in plant radiation and industrial hygiene survey, besides monitoring the health of workers at regular intervals.
NFC workers posted in the controlled area are monitored through thermo luminescent dosimeters for external exposure. Other employees in NFC are also monitored for lung 'uranium' burden.
"Studies conducted by Institute of Genetics and Hospital for Genetic Diseases could not detect any adverse work environment at NFC," a senior official said.
The safeguards notwithstanding, a plant dealing with radioactive substances always stand as a threat to human and animal life as well as environment. There have been complaints from NFC employees that they are exposed to radiation.
Radiation effect is felt more on pregnant women, says Dr Murali adding "women pregnant for less than three months are the most vulnerable as the child growing in the womb will get affected by radiation exposure. Depending on the stage of its development, the foetal growth gets stunted. She is very likely to give birth to an abnormal baby".
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