Don’t Lose Track of Radioactive Materials

Countries are expected to strictly keep track of radioactive substances. The recent leak of a cobalt isotope in a New Delhi scrap shop made several people sick, and is raising questions about nuclear security.

In an article on, Siddharth Varadarajan and R. Ramachandran say cobalt-60 is used for medical purposes, industrial radiography for non-destructive testing and in the food processing industry for irradiation purposes. It is normally housed in a sealed container with lead shielding within whatever equipment it forms a part of. Cobalt is far less dangerous than plutonium or enriched uranium — the raw material for making nuclear bombs — however, this case in Delhi is considered serious because patients have reported symptoms that suggest exposure to acute, high-intensity radiation.

India’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is meant to keep track of materials through a ‘cradle to grave' system that includes thorough on-site inspections. The reality is that manpower limitations sometimes cause radioactive material to get ‘orphaned,’ eventually making its way into the trash.

The problem is not exclusive to India. “The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has reported losing track of over 1,500 sealed sources since 1996, with more than half that number untraceable,” says the article.

To read the article, click here: