Villagers of Raini village in Tapovan area of Chamoli, Uttarakhand have expressed concerns that 7 February’s flash flood may be the result of heat being produced by a radioactive device.
Raini village lies near the area which saw the maximum destruction caused by the flash floods.
The device was lost in 1965 during a secret expedition to Nanda Devi conducted by the CIA and IB to plant nuclear-powered surveillance equipment on the summit of the mountain, India’s second-highest (after Kanchenjunga) for spying on China.
However, the mountaineering team conducting the expedition got caught in a blizzard and had to return, leaving the device at the base of the mountain. A year later, when they went back to the area, they could not find it; subsequent expeditions have not been able to trace the device, which has a life span of over 100 years and is believed to be still somewhere in the area.
On 7 February, the day the flash floods struck the area near Raini village in Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, which is situated in the Nanda Devi Biosphere, villagers said they noticed an extremely pungent smell in the air as muck and rubble from the mountain came rolling down and fell into the Rishiganga river.
“The smell was so intense that we were not able to breathe for some time. Had it been only debris and snow, it would not have carried such a smell. This has triggered concerns in our village that the long-lost radioactive device – about which our elders used to tell us – may be behind the incident,” said Deveshwari Devi, a resident of Jugju village, from where several men had served as porters during the 1965 expedition.
Incidentally, Imarti Devi, wife of one of the porters of the expedition, Kartik Singh, who is now 90-year-old, also died in Sunday’s flash floods after being swept away in the raging waters of the Rishiganga.
The Uttarakhand villagers’ concern about the radioactive device stems from the fact that the Nanda Devi (West) base camp is situated right at the spot where the Rishiganga gorge is located, from where the Rishiganga river emerges.
“During the 1965 expedition, we are told that the mountaineering team faced bad weather while they were above the base camp and they had to leave the device at a safe place there. If the device is buried under the snow somewhere in the area and is radiating heat, then of course there would be more melting of snow and further avalanches. We urge the government to immediately start a search operation for the device before there are more disasters,” said Sangram Singh Rawat, another villager who who along with his family has been spending the night in the forest near Raini village in fear ever since Sunday’s disaster.
Notably, in 2018, tourism minister Satpal Maharaj had raised the issue of the radioactive device polluting the snow trickling down from the Nanda Devi range into the Ganga and had urged Modi to take urgent action in the matter.