February 19, 2000
Radioactive waste leak in Thailand
In the country’s first-ever case of nuclear waste leak, five people have been hospitalised for radiation sickness, but health and nuclear officials are still struggling to determine the ramifications of the radioactive nightmare.
Four days after a first patient was diagnosed as being exposed to a radioactive substance identified as
Cobalt-60 and two days after the leak became public knowledge, public health officials began to express
concern on how much radiation has spread over Samut Prakan.
Nuclear officials yesterday began cleaning up the radioactive leak. It was an exercise for which they had no
At the start of the clean-up work, officials from the Office of Atomic Energy for Peace (OAEP) could only
say they had uncovered the radioactive source – industrial waste Cobalt-60 pellets in unknown quantities.
The substance is estimated to have a radiation radius of 500 metres. The officials conceded that they still
could not trace the origins of the radioactive substance. But they knew that its cylinder tube containing the
pellets had been wrongly broken, causing the radioactive leak. They also knew that the substance was
commonly used in medical, food preservation and other industries.
Meanwhile Samut Prakan residents, especially those living in the lower-income neighbourhood of Soi Wat
Mahawong, live in suspense of whether they have been exposed to the radiation.
According to witnesses, three dogs in the neighbourhood have died. And Somjit sae Jia, owner of a scrap
store, was sick soon after she bought a metal cylinder as scrap.
Public health permanent secretary Sujarit Sriprapan said altogether 10 people had been exposed to the
radiation as they tried to cut the “unknown” metal tube. Three were first admitted for treatment at Samut
Prakan Hospital and were later transferred to Ratchawithi Hospital following the diagnosis of radiation
Two other people were being treated at Ramathibodi and Bangkok hospitals. The remaining five people were
under observation, but had not yet developed symptoms.
The five victims of radiation hospitalised are Somjit, Jitrasen Jansakha, Sudjai Jairaew, Nipon Pankhan, and
Sujarit explained that after their radiation exposure, the five victims developed nausea, lack of appetite and
They would later experience burns, gum bleeding, blisters, and swollen lymphatic glands.
The five victims had shown a drastic drop in white blood cells from 8000 per one millilitre to only 100,
indicating the collapse of their bodies’ immune system.
Somjit had bought the nuclear waste, which she understood to be scrap, since February 1. The radioactive
substance had been laid exposed in her store until officials found it yesterday.
Surajit also expressed puzzlement at how nuclear waste material ended up in a scrap store. It was one of the
most regulated substances under the supervision of the OAEP, he said.
After checking the store, Pathom Yaemket, OAEP official, identified the radioactive leak as coming from
Cobalt-60 and ordered the 30-metre surrounding area to be cordoned off and declared a dangerous
Pathom said he designated the zone, because it was the area in which radioactivity was strongest.
He said the radiation would be cleaned up by removing all contaminated soil and material.
OAEP secretary general Kriansak Bhadrakhom expressed relief that the centre of radioactive leak had been
uncovered and was being cleaned up.
Kriangsak expected the clean-up operation to finish as soon as possible, though declined to speculate on its
He also denied the speculation that industrial operators might have secretly dumped the nuclear waste.
“The problem occurred because someone tried to cut the nuclear protective cylinder,” he said.
He insisted his office strictly monitored the movement of radioactive materials and nuclear waste.
A nuclear official said the leak was extremely serious because victims suffered radioactive exposure to a level
of one curi (a unit measuring radiation intensity), which is almost next to the most dangerous level – which
would cause instant death.
Science Minister Arthit Urairat lamented that his officials had left in the dark as to what had happened.
“I am very concerned but I am confident that the OEAP and the Pollution Control Department under my
supervision will successfully tackle the nuclear leak,” he said off the cuff.
Categories: Mekong Utility Watch
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