JAIPUR, India – (AFP) – A team from the UN’s nuclear watchdog began a safety inspection Monday at a power plant in northern India where dozens of workers were exposed to radiation in separate leaks earlier this year.
The inspectors were touring the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station to “review the programmes and activities essential to plant operation based on the IAEA safety standards and on proven good practices”, said a statement by the watchdog.
The 12-member team from the International Atomic Energy Agency was in India at the request of the government. The IAEA said it was the first time that New Delhi had issued such an invitation to the Vienna-based body.
The inspection, which will last until November 15, will examine working practices and safety procedures as well as the condition of equipment.
The visit came just over three months after managers at the plant revealed that more than 40 workers had been exposed to tritium radiation in two separate leaks over the summer.
The first accident occurred on June 23 when 38 people were exposed during maintenance work on a coolant channel at the plant in the town of Rawatbhata in Rajasthan state, senior plant manager Vinod Kumar told AFP.
Two of them received radiation doses equivalent to the annual permissible limit, he said, but all those involved have since returned to work.
In a second incident in July, another four maintenance workers at the plant were exposed to tritium radiation while they were repairing a faulty seal on a pipe.
India is engaged in a drive for nuclear power, with a host of plants based on Russian, Japanese, American and French technology under consideration or construction.
The country’s growing economy is currently heavily dependent on coal, getting less than three percent of its energy from its existing atomic plants, and the government hopes to raise the figure to 25 percent by 2050.
But environmental watchdogs have expressed concerns about safety in India, where small-scale industrial accidents due to negligence or poor maintenance are commonplace and regulatory bodies are often understaffed and underfunded.