Saving our planet; one bag at a time

July 31, 2006

Plastic bags cause more harm than nuclear power plants

Filed under: Environment — Kaajal @ 5:07 pm

As the world discusses India’s ability to safely harness nuclear power, here’s an interesting story by K. S. Parthasarathy, who was former secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of India.

Plastic bags cause more harm than the nuclear power plant was doing

Tarapur, on the West coast of India, has a nuclear power plant.

In May 1995, in Tarapur, routine sampling of a storm-water drain at this facility detected a small amount of caesium-137, which was traced to steam condensate from the plant. The leak contaminated an area of about 40 square metres, well within the premises.

The radioactivity was so dilute that a person would have had to drink 50 litres of storm water every day for an entire year to exceed the maximum safe dose. And the plant personnel disposed of the affected soil safely. The leak posed no health risk.

But the story “grew legs”. Dozens of reporters descended on the site. Some attributed the leak to a nuclear power station nearby. In some versions, the leak had killed local cattle. The Times of India, one of the most widely circulated newspapers in the country, published photographs of the skeletons of animals said to have been killed by the leak.

Angry villagers dragged the carcass of a calf to the site. I was at Tarapur to investigate the leak. During the autopsy, which I requested, the vet pulled out several kilograms of polythene bags from the dead calf’s stomach. The body did not contain an abnormally high amount of radioactivity.

Stomach clogging by thin plastic bags causes 90 per cent of cattle deaths in parts of India. In one state capital, the authorities keep an ambulance with rescue personnel ready to rush to the spot to do emergency surgery on cattle in distress. They get many calls every day.

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