People living in the vicinity of uranium and thorium mining projects are exposed to varying levels of radiation dosages, but they cannot know the exact quantum of exposure in the absence of public access to radiation counters and dosimeters. Only government agencies particularly of the Department of Atomic Energy are permitted to possess equipment that measure the exposure of radiation to the general public.
"For some strange reason the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board has not taken note of it. There's no shortage of radiation counters and dosimeters. A tender publication in a newspaper will flood you with the equipment. But since there's restriction on their use by the general public, one has to believe what the DAE or the Barc says. If they say there's no radiation exposure, that's it," a senior nuclear physicist associated with AERB told this correspondent.
Radiation counters help one know the quantum of radiation a person is exposed to. Radiation dosimeters also perform a similar function. Only top hospitals with nuclear medicine departments registered with the DAE get licence to use these equipment.
"The government has always kept a veil of secrecy on the civil nuclear power programme. Barc and DAE have constantly been denying that there's no radiation exposure to their employees, leave alone the general public. Their argument is that the radiation exposure is far below the natural background radiation that hits the earth. But the truth will come out if at least NGOs are permitted to take up independent evaluation of people exposed to radiation risk," said Dr K Babu Rao, adviser to National Alliance of People's Movements.
The demand for access to general public of radiation counters and dosimeters gains significance as India plans to import as many as 21 nuclear reactors as part of its ambitious "energy parks" programme. Each energy park will have a cluster of reactors posing even greater threat to the people living around.
The proposed nuclear plant at Kovvada in Srikakulam district will singularly have a capacity of 6000 MWe. This is against the overall nuclear energy generation of about 4500 MWe in the country at present. This speaks of the gigantic size of the nuclear energy park at Kovvada, a densely populated area.
"One can image the danger the nuclear energy parks will pose because of the location of a number of reactors at one small place. Radiation counters will help people know whether they are safe from or at risk of nuclear radiation. People have a right to health and they should not be denied of the facility," said anti-nuke activist V Satyanarayana.