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Simon Ingram reports from Bangkok
"The chain of mishaps would be comical were the consequences not so frightening"
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Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 13:21 GMT
Thai legal action over radiation leak

OAEP officials at Samut Prakarn
Officials test the radioactive container at the scrapyard

Thai authorities are to prosecute a Bangkok firm for improper disposal of radioactive waste, after leaks which have so far put nine people in hospital with radiation poisoning.

Science, Technology and Environment Minister Arthit Ourairat identified the company as Kamol Sukosol Electric, a Thai distributor of imported radiotherapy machines.

Officials from the government's Office of Atomic Energy for Peace (OAEP) removed three radiotherapy machines from wasteland owned by the company and moved them into OAEP safe storage.

"All radioactive equipment is supposed to be kept in safe housing, not in the open air," said Mr Arthit.


Chaweng Suwannarat, Kamol Sukosol's manager for medical equipment, said: "We'll let our lawyers handle those allegations by the government."

OAEP officials with radiotherapy machine Three radiotherapy machines were found on wasteland
He said one of the machines was de-commissioned from the National Cancer Institute and another from a regional hospital.

The third, bought from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) by a private clinic in Bangkok in 1974, was kept at the company's site because the clinic did not have a proper storage place, Mr Chaweng added.

The Canadian embassy in Bangkok said AECL was "concerned" about the incident, but held no responsibility for it.

No warnings in Thai

The machines were found after five workers at a scrapyard were admitted to hospital last weekend suffering from exposure to Cobalt 60 radiation after handling parts from one machine.

It appears the containers were marked "Caution - Radioactive" in English. But there were no warnings in Thai.

The five are now reported to be in a serious but stable condition, suffering from a rapid drop in their white blood cell count, blisters, skin burns and hair loss.

Another four people were admitted to hospital on Monday, but they were in less serious condition as they had not been in direct contact with the radioactive material.

Cobalt 60 is a radioactive isotope used in X-ray machines and for sterilisation in the food industry.

'Unable to cope'

Thai press reports have quoted OAEP officials as saying that it cannot begin to cope with the huge quantity of waste material being sent to its only nuclear waste storage facility.

The OAEP licenses some 500 companies and hospitals using nuclear materials.

This is the country's first reported radiation leak.

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See also:
21 Feb 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Thailand probes radiation leak
22 Feb 00 |  Medical notes
Radioactive material in hospitals: the facts

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