DU labs still feel Mayapuri radiation leak heat

The Mayapuri radiation fiasco may have been caused by the irresponsibility of the faculty members of Delhi University’s ( DU) chemistry department, but its price is being paid by hundreds of students.

Three months after the university was ordered by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) to discontinue radioactive experiments — for teaching as well as research purposes — on the campus, DU has not yet managed to get the ban revoked.

The nuclear physics laboratories of the university, consequently, have been rendered useless.

And about 300 students enrolled in MTech in nuclear science and technology and MSc in Physics ( nuclear science) haven’t had a single practical lesson, though their new academic session began on August 9.

DU is among the few institutions in the country which offers programmes in nuclear science. It possibly produces the largest number of students specialising in this area. While the MSc programme is almost four decades old, the MTech course is relatively new and has been around for two years. “ It’s not just students studying nuclear science who have been affected. All firstyear MSc students, irrespective of their specialisation, conduct experiments using radioactive sources,” said a professor in the department of physics.

Since practical lessons are of utmost importance in the study of nuclear physics, faculty members are now trying desperately to devise innovative ideas to substitute radioactive sources in the experiments. The laboratories, meanwhile, are being just used to teach theory lessons.

The ban on radioactive experiments came in the wake of the irresponsible disposal of a gamma radiator containing Cobalt- 60 as scrap from DU’s chemistry department in April, which eventually landed in the Mayapuri scrapyard. Exposure to this strong radioactive source claimed one life and injured six others.

“ The radioactive sources used by the students are very weak in strength and cannot cause the kind of damage inflicted by the Cobalt- 60 that was sold off as scrap. But since the nature of the blunder was grave, the AERB asked the university to suspend all such activities irrespective of whether it was for teaching or research,” a teacher said.

Though the department teachers have given several reminders to the university administration about the grim state of affairs ( the academic session has also completed its first week), the vice- chancellor is yet to seek the AERB’s permission to resume experiments at least for teaching purpose.

“ Right now I am busy trying to ensure that the teachers do not interrupt the introduction of the semester system at the undergraduate level. I will be writing to the AERB very soon,” said V- C Deepak Pental.

The three- member committee formed by DU to probe the irresponsible disposal of radioactive Cobalt- 60 had submitted its report to Pental earlier this month. Fixing responsibility for the incident, according to Pental, cannot happen right away again because of the semester stand- off.

“ I need to call a meeting of the executive council to discuss the findings of the report. But I really need to sort out the semester issue first,” Pental said.


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