'Occupational Health and Safety' Meet Dispels Panic on Radiation
Radiation just like every other resource can either be put to good use or for destructive purpose which recalls words from the science classes, 'Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it can only be changed from one form to another'. So, to dispel radiation fears and restore trust in productive use of radiation a panel of experts gave presentations and offered detailed explanations at The Journalist Workshop-cum-Press Meet in Chennai, Tamil Nadu on January 11, 2012 on 'Occupational Health Safety' initiated by Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, Madras Atomic Power Station at Kalpakkam.
Panic among Public
Apart from Japan, India has also borne the brunt of an industrial disaster, hence the alarm at the word 'nuclear' prevalent among people due to misconceptions though radiation has been effectively used in medical treatments. Ideally the first presentation on the theme of the event, 'Occupational Health and Safety' presented by Mr. K. Ramamurthy, Station Director, MAPS, Kalpakkam, began on Nuclear Power Plants are put into operation after a thoroughscientific method of evaluation based on a clear understanding of the safety significanceCurrently demand for energy and the source for the generation of energy is in the form of electrical energy. But the ongoing debate is which source of energy is good to meet the demand, the abundance of the source and also the reliability of the source. He suggested that a mixture of energy is better than going towards one source. Hence nuclear energy is a better choice which gets implemented after detailed research, where security of the process is put in place, safe handling of tools employed and advantages of energy maximised.
'Background Radiation - An Introduction' by Mr. S.A. Bharadwaj, Director (Technical), NCPIL, explained the omnipresence of radiation. Radiation from natural sources called natural background radiation, cosmic rays affecting the rays from outside earth such as sun, stars and galaxies, radioactive substances in the earth's crust in the form of radioactive isotopes, Radon through decay of uranium emitted from the ground breathed in through lungs are listed as sources of radiation. Highest level of natural radiation is observed in Karunagapally in Kerala and Ramsar, a northern coastal city in Iran. In support of his argument of how being constantly exposed to radiation has not endangered human beings, he also put forth the imperative universal rule of manmade radiation must be 'As Low as Reasonably Achievable' (ALARA) principle.
Cancer Independent of Radiation
'Radiation and Cancer- A Perspective' by Dr. V. Rangarajan, M.D. Head, Dept. Of Bio-Imaging TATA Memorial Centre (TMC), Mumbai reinforced on how radiation is used in treating patients especially of cancer. Almost all imaging tests including CT and PET Scans that people are familiar with, because of its use during emergency also useradiation. Radio-isotopes such as Bone Scan PET Scan and perfusion scans fall under the category. In fact radiation in his opinion has only cured cancer and hardly vice-versa. Among examples of radiotherapy cited by him are on Ewing's sarcoma and Hodgkin's lymphoma that melt away with radiotherapy and other on how radiotherapy improves cure rates by 30% when added to Surgery and Chemotherapy. "Radiation does not cause disease but is needed to treat cancer" he insisted. He also presented the safety side of his argument drawing examples from Eldorado (Canada) Uranium workers close to 17660 labourers monitored for decades exhibited lower mortality rates, who exhibited lower incidence of cancer as opposed to general public. He cited similar examples from French nuclear power plants and Finnish nuclear plants.
While addressing Fukushima Daiichi in Japan that was hit by a tsunami recently, his presentation marked that no deaths were reported and long term damage to human health though yet unknown, is expected to be low. But currently measures are taken to safeguard from ill effects through containment and adequate coolants. Chernobyl was an accident caused thyroid cancer in 6000 people.However the damaged reactor is now encased in a concrete shell. A new containment structure is due to be completed by 2014. As opposed to popular belief that land becomes barren after nuclear disaster, life has been restored in Chernobyl and Nagasaki covered by greenery.
Report on 'Retrospective Analysis of Health Profile of Employees of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited - Operating Sites' was presented by Dr. S.K. Jain, Chief Medical Superintendent, NPCIL. He spoke on the importance of the health of employees to any organisation. Especially in nuclear power plant sites, the health of the worker is all the more important because they are skilled labourers. He later mentioned how there is a need for 600 workers at Kalpakkam, but only 100 workers are available since additional manpower with specialised skills is required. Premier medical services are offered at Departmental hospitals and dispensaries at each site. While discussing AME which takes into account the history, physical examination, systematic examination and investigations he offered statistics of NCPIL employees in comparison to general public to show low incidence of ill effects.
Questions regarding fish production were addressed by Dr. V. Rangarajan, M.D. stated with facts verified by meeting with the fishermen in the locality. On how the nuclear waste material will be disposed, Dr. P. Chellapandi, Director NSEG, IGCAS, explained short term solution where nuclear waste will be converted to glass since glass is stable and stored in a stainless steel container and kept underground called Plutonium mines which will be used in the next stage for Fast breeder programme. The mines will be used to re-cycle energy; hence the plutonium mines were referred as treasures. The maintenance for the preservation is definitely much cheaper than buying coal. When asked if India is prepared to handle in case of a disaster the response was in affirmative.
The aim of the event was to fill the gap on awareness on nuclear energy and do away with any fear lingering in the minds of the people. The focus was specifically on the health and safety of people with ample examples. Campaigns are currently carried out more assertively among locales living close to nuclear power plants. Inhabitants have also been educated on how to handle in case of an accident. The first level test is completed at Koodankulam and is in need of APP clearance in order to load fuel process it will take about 3 to 4 months to generate energy. The panel reiterated that the plant belongs to the country and the country will benefit from nuclear energy.