Nuclear threat: 930 police stations to get monitoring gadgets

As part of its preventive safety measures, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) plans to provide gadgets which can detect nuclear material and monitor radiation to 930 police stations. These Mobile Radiation Detections Systems (MRDS) are to be mounted on police patrol vehicles across the country. Bengaluru is expected to get 40 such detectors.

The purpose is to train and arm police to detect early stages and types of radiation leaks on priority. The “Go, No-Go” detectors will be used to scan a location to trace nuclear radiation that is higher than the permitted tolerance level. The project is being coordinated by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) under MHA.

While sources in NDMA said Bengaluru is likely to get 40 systems, TOI could not immediately get the details of how many each major Indian city may have. “Since it relates to nuclear security, it will be difficult to spell out details,” said an MHA spokesperson from New Delhi.

There have been multiple attempts to steal from mines over the years, and smuggle/launder nuclear material, with one major racket busted in Rajasthan in 2016. While 2017 went by without a major incident, people have been arrested in 1994, 1998, 2003, 2009 and 2013 for stealing uranium from mines or plants.

The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) index 2016, which ranked India poorly, observed: “India is increasing quantities of materials but it does not yet have an independent regulatory agency, and it has regulations that lack key requirements for securing materials.” PM Narendra Modi had said the same year that India is putting in place a comprehensive plan to combat the issue.Threat perception in India has been high, especially after terrorist organizations claimed interest in acquiring nuclear capabilities. According to Synergia Foundation, an interdisciplinary think tank, the real threat is implosion of a “dirty bomb”, a type of a radiological dispersal device (RDD) that combines conventional explosives like dynamite with radioactive material.

“While most RDDs wouldn’t release enough radiation to kill people or cause severe illness, they could spark panic and contaminate property, and require costly cleanups. The real benefit of a detector is to make prompt, accurate information available to the public, which may prevent the panic situation terrorists want to create,” said Tobby Simon, founder-president of Synergia Foundation.

Radioactive materials

Contrary to what’s normally understood, hospitals use radioactive materials in diagnostic procedures and cancer treatments, and blood banks and hospitals irradiate blood for use in immunocompromised patients, Tobby Simon said. Food is irradiated, just like water and other beverages. Manufacturers of devices for medical and industrial applications embed radioactive materials in products. These places represent sources of radioactive materials which aren’t well secured. A report by the Nuclear Threat Initiative says, “A single nuclear source in just one blood irradiator in a hospital would provide enough radioactive material for a dirty bomb attack that would result in billions of dollars in damage.”