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Reports of cancer deaths in atomic energy hubs hoax: DAE

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New Delhi — The Department of Atomic Energy under the aegis of the Government of India has termed reports in a section of the media on cancer deaths in atomic energy hubs as a “malicious distortion of facts”.

The Times of India on 6 September and indiatvnews.com the next day had published such reports, citing a response to some RTI query.

In a clarification issued yesterday evening, the DAE has clarified its position as under (unedited):

A section of media has recently published a report about Cancer behind 70% deaths in India’s atomic energy hubs. This is a gross distortion of facts. The report has cited ‘2600 deaths due to cancer, out of a total of 3887 deaths of employees in 19 centres (during 1995-2014)’, attributing the information to responses to RTI queries made by Shri Chetan Kothari of Mumbai. He received information (vide his RTI query dated June 22, 2010 and 29, 2014) from the Department of Atomic Energy on the number of deaths of its employees while in service due to various causes, including suicide. The malicious report also quoted a ‘shocking revelation of 255 suicides’ in BARC during the same period 1995 to 2014. However, nothing can be farther from the truth, because this report does not reflect the information given by the Units of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to Shri Kothari.

DAE has once again scrutinised the information provided by its Units, especially the major Units, directly to Shri Kothari in July-August 2010 (for the period 1995-2010), and in April-June 2014 (for the period from 2010).

The total number of deaths of DAE employees in service over the period of 1995 to 2014 works out to 2564 and this includes 69 cases of suicides (as against the report claiming 3887 deaths and 255 suicides). The number of deaths reported by DAE Units due to cancer-related causes is 152 out of the above 2564 deaths. All the responses do not necessarily contain information on the cause of deaths (response to information is always based on available information alone); thus the actual number of deaths of employees due to cancer related causes could be higher than the above figure of 152, but this would in no case be anywhere near 2600 cases, as being made out in the media report. The media report seems to have got its numbers wrong, although it refers to the RTI source.

That the incidence of cancer-related deaths among DAE employees is similar to what is seen in other sectors of society is also borne out of a study conducted by the Tata Memorial Centre (TMC) covering 22,224 DAE workers and their families at three major Indian nuclear installations (Tarapur, Kaiga and Kakrapar) between 1981 and 2012, which found that cancer accounted for 9% of all deaths in this population group. In contrast, the said report quotes the highly exaggerated figure of 70% of cancer deaths (2600 cancer-related deaths out of a total of 3887 deaths of DAE employees).

The average number of deaths of DAE employees while in service over the period 1995 to 2014 works out to about 130 per year. There is nothing abnormal about this rate, considering that the number of employees in the entire DAE is nearly 60,000 and that the annual death rate in India is reported to be 6 to 8 per 1000.

The outlandish claim on the rate of cancer deaths and suicides among DAE employees seems to be based on grossly erroneous and distorted interpretation of the information provided by DAE Units in their responses to the RTI query. DAE has reasons to believe that the information on the number of DAE employees undergoing treatment for different types of illness or ailment, provided by a couple of Units of DAE in their responses to the RTI query of Shri C. Kothari in 2014, has been recklessly counted as ‘deaths of employees’, and tabulated for circulation.

The blatant attempt made by such malicious report to malign the DAE and cause considerable damage to the nuclear energy programme in the in the long-run needs strong condemnation. It is very unfortunate that a section of the media not only published such a completely misleading report without carrying out necessary and sufficient verification of all facts and figures, but has also ignored the DAE appeals to publish its response.

DAE had countered in June 2010 similar erroneous media reports on cancer deaths and suicides. DAE, along with TMC, will publish more detailed information and analysis of the health status of its employees in due course of time. DAE would like to reassure one and all that it continues to place very high priority on the welfare of its employees and the public, especially those in the neighbourhood of its Facilities, and that all its projects and operations are carried out with utmost care ensuring the safety and welfare of its personnel and neighbourhood population.

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