Note: India imports some 3 million tons of scrap metal each year. The issue of radioactive radiation from scarp metal sources such as end of life ship was raised by ToxicsWatch Alliance in its application in the Supreme Court in 2006. The original case in the Supreme Court was filed by Research Foundation for Science and Technology in 1995 but the foundation no longer works on the issue. The matter of French dead ship Blue Lady (SS Norway, SS France)was filed on belhalf of ToxicsWatch Alliance in the apex court.
Radioactive steel in exports to Europe have been traced to India. This has put exports of $23 billion of engineering goods in jeopardy. Unlinke in US there was no specific guideline on the level of contamination in Europe. In US, there is zero-tolerance level because even if a part of a container was contaminated, then the material in the rest of the container is also returned.
Indian sea ports like Alang do not have equipment to detect radioactive or contaminated consignments, exposing the country to security and safety risks, besides damaging reputation of goods manufactured in the country. Admittedly, "There are infrastructure constraints at the ports. There is no way to detect if harmful material or radioactive substances get imported or exported out of the country. One has to be very careful in importing scrap metal as well" said a government official familiar with the procedures related to foreign trade.
Cases of traces of a radioactive material in a consignment containing steel products has been happening since 2007. Incidentally, the Supreme Court's ambiguous order in the Blue Lady case that attracted severe criticism from jurists and legal experts for it being flawed.
At the root of the problem is some radioactive steel scrap that got imported into India. This scrap was used to manufacture packaging material for heavy-duty engineering goods consignments.
The fact that such contaminated material was not detected when it was being imported or exported in the form of packaging material reveals that Indian ports are not equipped to detect radioactive substances.
Besides Alang, most of India's metal scrap is imported through the Kandla port in Gujarat, with the remaining coming through Chennai, Visakhapatnam and Tuticorin ports. It may be recalled that in 2007, about 200 containers exported from the Kolkata port were detected to have radioactive traces.
Government policy to allow toxics
The ‘sab chalta hai’ approach of the executioners of government policies was responsible for the world’s worst industrial disaster, the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984.
But the government hasn’t learnt its lessons. Else, Thursday’s Mayapuri (west Delhi) accident, in which a scrap dealer and his four employees were rendered incapacitated after coming in contact with a radioactive material, Cobalt 60, would not have happened.
Persistent inertia resulted in the nuclear material making its way into the garbage imported in shipping containers and transported unchecked to Delhi.
Mayapuri is a warning.
Here, it’s worth recalling the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) report submitted to the Supreme Court (SC) 5 years ago that import of hazardous material led to radiation from finished products.
It also insisted that every importer of metal scrap should obtain a certificate from the exporting country that the scrap is free from radioactivity. Ironically, a multilayer radiation check system proposed by AERB to prevent import and export of radioactive material has not been implemented.
The government’s love for violators is not only misplaced but it’s also beyond comprehension. This unwarranted sympathy was on full display when Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy charged that a ship, Blue Lady, had been allowed to dock at the Alang port in Gujarat for dismantling, though it contained radioactive material.
The government and the shipbreaking industry contested that the ship didn’t carry lethal material.
SC directed AERB to inspect it. On August 16, 2006, the nuclear watchdog confirmed Blue Lady contained radioactive material.
This was good enough to send the ship back to its country, but that wasn’t done. In a quick development, AERB and Gujarat Maritime Board gave a clean chit to the vessel, saying it was beached at Alang and thus “no more contains any radioactive material onboard”.
The case is an example of the Centre’s contaminated policy, as it feels that import of toxics helps generate jobs.
DNA, 12 April, 2010