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Did a lost nuclear device cause Chamoli flash floods? Decades-old suspicion comes back to haunt villagers

In the year 2018, state cabinet minister of Uttarakhand Satpal Maharaj had said that he had urged the Prime Minister to take action in this regard. 

Published: 10th February 2021 10:02 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th February 2021 04:26 PM   |  A+A-

Rescue operations underway near the damaged Dhauliganga hydro power projectat Raini village in Uttarakhand

Rescue operations underway near the damaged Dhauliganga hydro power projectat Raini village in Uttarakhand. (Photo | Shekhar Yadav, EPS)

Express News Service

CHAMOLI: While experts are yet to pinpoint the cause of Chamoli flash floods and many are warning about climate change, the floods brought back fears of old tales related to a lost radioactive material in the Nanda Devi glaciers.

As per local residents in and around village Raini, a 'machine' was installed on Nanda Devi mountains in 1965 which had a nuclear device within. 

Kartik Singh (92), a resident of Raini village claims that he was part of the 1965 expedition to install the 'machine', says, "I used to work as a porter then. Some people asked me to carry a packed, concealed load. I agreed. We went to a place called 'Camp IV'. Later, a blizzard hit us and we decided to leave the device and return to safety."

A mix of myths and rumours have filled Raini and adjacent villages after the flash floods. Many believe that the nuclear device caused the flash floods which wreaked havoc washing away two hydropower projects and killing many. Total 32 bodies have been found to date while 174 are missing.

"The device is dangerous and may be the cause of these floods meting the snow," added Singh. 

In the year 2010, responding to an RTI query of an activist Gurvinder Singh Chadha which had total 7 questions related to the radioactive device in question, the Bhabha Atomic Research Center had replied, "This center has no information on the above. Hence, we are unable to provide any information under the RTI Act 2005."

Interestingly, one of the questions by Chadha included if American senator Richard Autier warned India about the nuclear device in 1965 and famous Russian scientist Arthur Compeleene also warned India saying that lakhs of people may be affected due to the radiation. 

Chadha died last year. Dushyant Mainali, a practicing advocate in Uttarakhand Hugh Court and friend of the activist recalls, "He had filed RTI queries related to the device two times. He used to talk about this story often and had logical reasons to make us believe."

Many books have been written on the issue including one by Stephen Alter. The Mussoorie-based author has written about a secret operation in which a device was to be installed to monitor China which had conducted a nuclear test in 1962 in Xinjiang province. 

Weighing around 56kg, including an 8-10ft-high antenna, two transceiver sets system, the remote sensing device which was supposed to keep track of any further nuclear tests by China after 1964 is believed to be installed by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America and Intelligence Bureau of India to spy on China. 

ALSO READ: Chamoli disaste - Experts yet to ascertain what caused tragedy

In the year 2018, state cabinet minister of Uttarakhand Satpal Maharaj had said that he had urged the Prime Minister to take action in this regard. 

The radioactive material is said to be an alloy of Pu-238 with 18 percent Pu-239 which is considered the most effective combination to prolong the life span of the material and generate maximum energy. 

After the team which went on the expedition returned to the spot in the year 1966, they could not find the device. The device is said to have a life of around 100 years out of which 45 are still left. However, many believe the story is too far from reality and even a myth. 

Mohan Singh, another resident of Raini village who has taken part in many expeditions in Nanda Devi glaciers said, "I don't think this flash flood is a result of any device. I don't believe in this story. To me these are just rumours which started at some point in time and became a myth eventually."



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