Leak of radioactive material at India's Delhi airport

Leak of radioactive material at India's Delhi airport

NEW DELHI - There was a leak of radioactive material on Friday on board a Turkish Airlines freight plane at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, government and airport officials said, adding it had been contained.

The leak was found in a medical consignment, a source at the capital's airport told Reuters, adding that the site had been cordoned off by emergency services who put a blanket over the spill.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who was holding a news conference when news of the leak broke, said the atomic energy experts had been immediately dispatched to the scene.

The airport source denied media reports that leak was large and said no people had suffered any radioactive contamination. The airport was later due to put out a statement.

The material was later determined to be sodium iodide 131, an official at India's Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) told Reuters. "It's a localised leak," AERB Vice-Chairman R. Bhattacharya told Reuters by telephone.

Sodium iodide 131 is used in so-called nuclear medicine, and is used for treatment of hyperthyroidism and thyroid cancers. It emits radiation and must be handled with care to minimise inadvertent exposure to health workers and patients.

Bhattarcharya said that the AERB was part of an emergency response team at the scene of the incident. He said that one of four consignments of sodium iodide had leaked. It had been"separated" and the area cordoned off, he said.

The NDTV network reported that two cargo workers who were exposed to the leakage had been taken to hospital for precautionary checks. The material was meant to be delivered to a private hospital in the Indian capital.

In 2010, a scrapyard worker in Delhi died from radiation poisoning and seven others were injured, raising concerns over the handling of radioactive material in India. Environmental group Toxic Links estimates that India produces five million tonnes of hazardous industrial waste every year and imports 5,000 tonnes of scrap metal every day.

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