EARTH Thailand

EARTH-ENLAW-Greenpeace Thailand called for accountability and transparency over missing Cesium-137 from Prachin Buri power plant

21 March 2023

Environmental NGOs EARTH, ENLAWTHAI Foundation, and Greenpeace Thailand, released a press statement calling for accountability and transparency from government agencies, after the radioactive material “Cesium-137” went missing from a power plant in Si Maha Phot district, Prachin Buri province. 

It remains unclear when the radioactive material went missing from the power plant which belongs to National Power Plant 5 A Limited Company, but yesterday, authorities confirmed they had detected radioactivity in ashes in a metal smelting factory. Reportedly, the radioactive ash had been buried in the grounds near the metal factory, therefore authorities have dug up part of the soil and placed them into bags. They have restricted access, and closed out the area.

The chronology of events, the three environmental NGOs opined, exposed a failure in the power plant’s management of hazardous material, as well as the failure of agencies tasked with regulating the power plant.

Worse, the power plant had been late in informing authorities about the incident. News report indicated that irregularities had been noticed as early as mid-February, but the Office of Atoms for Peace were only informed on March 10th. The company had reportedly been charged with not immediately disclosing the situation. 

There are also questions to be asked as to how the cylinder containing Cesium-137 fell from its initial location in the first place. Additionally, why were any individuals allowed to transport the radioactive material outside the factory in the first place.

The press conference held by the Office of Atoms for Peace on March 20th, 2023, did not confirm that the radioactivity detected in the ash came from the missing Cesium-137. This means that at the moment, no one knows where the Cesium-137 is exactly, which led to the point that Thai people still lack access to information on sources of pollution, and that agencies are playing a catch-up game when it comes to management of pollutants. 

This is not the first time Thai society had been faced with crises involving misplacement of radioactive materials. In the year 2000, a part of the Cobalt-60 machine used in medical operations were taken out of a medical facility only to be placed in an abandoned car park. A waste collector happened upon it and proceeded to dismantle it. The event led to 10 people suffering severe sickness, and placed more than 1,600 individuals in the area under serious risk. From Cobalt-60 in 2000 to Cesium-137 in 2023, the underlying problems has remained almost completely unchanged.

The three environmental NGOs emphasize that in spite of the reassuring tones of the relevant government agencies, such as the Office of Atoms for Peace, the danger is far from over. The true destination of the Cesium-137 is still uncertain.

The three NGOs demand the relevant government agencies to:

Investigate any, and all location that may have been contaminated by the missing Cesium-137, including ash from the smelting factory or even metal products. Any waste or objects contaminated by Cesium-137 must be properly and transparently disposed. Government agencies must conduct thorough risk assessment and produce measures to alleviate environmental and health damage, as well as releasing clear and understandable information to help locals monitor the situation.

The investigation into the cause and development of the incident must be transparent to the public. This includes the effectiveness of the power plant’s safety and radioactive material management system.

If any person or agency is found to have committed wrongdoings, serious repercussions must be pursued. The wrongdoer(s) must be responsible for compensation of the damage. The compensation must not come from the state’s fund or taxpayer’s money. Serious repercussion will also prevent history from repeating itself in the future.

The relevant government agencies must summarize the lessons learned from this case, and implement regulatory measures to ensure that such events do not happen again.