Red dust fiasco
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Red dust fiasco

After a 10 days search, government agencies found radiated red dust believed to be from the remains of a caesium-137 tube, which disappeared from a power plant on Feb 23.

The Office of Atoms for Peace (OAP) on Sunday found radiated dust at a steel melting plant in Prachin Buri, some 10km away from the power plant where the missing caesium-137 tube had been installed.

The discovery of the irradiated dust should have been good news that could calm the public, who feared that a radiation accident may have occurred.

But it is not. After the press conference on Monday, the public became only more confused by what was said and the way responsible agencies have appeared to handle the situation.

"I cannot say 100% that the red dust is from the missing caesium-137 tube that we are looking for," Permsuk Sutchaphiwat, secretary-general of OAP, told the media on Monday.

But Mr Permsuk added: "Caesium-137 will be subdued after being at 1,000 degrees Celsius heat. All contaminated dust will be contained."

The government has not officially released the name and exact location of the steel melting plant where the irradiated dust was found.

The OAP and the Ministry of Public Health have only told the public that the area within a five-kilometre radius of the plant has been scanned and cleared of radioactivity.

Nor has it released the name and locations of the recycling plants in Rayong and Chon Buri provinces where the treated radioactive ash will go.

The OAP, though, has repeatedly ruled out that any radiation has been released into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, OAP radiologists and police have been clueless about how the caesium-137 tube disappeared from a well-confined power plant in the first place.

The National Power Supply Plc, which owns the plant, has subsequently been charged with violating the Atoms for Peace Act 2019 -- for belatedly informing the agency two weeks after the radioactive materials went missing.

The plant is liable to pay a fine of up to 100,000 baht, and/or someone there deemed responsible for what occurred could possibly face a one-year jail term.

But still, the details are few and far between. How can the public trust what's been said when they have been given little in the way of detail, let alone proof, of what happened?

It's little wonder that the government has been criticised by environmentalists for covering up what has occurred.

Currently, people are still fearful about the possibility of radiation in Prachin Buri, an area known for fruit exports and vegetables.

One thing that is at least certain is that this case's crisis management has shown that the government does not know how to communicate with the public.

The first step in earning trust is transparency, and the government needs to do a better job in providing necessary information and quick and reliable protection measures when warranted. Instead of asking people not to panic, the government must convince people through its actions.

It needs to be able to show how at-risk areas are completely safe and monitored and how people will be taken care of. After all, trust must be earned with convincing actions. So far, the government and OAP have failed to earn it.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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