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Paper Monitor

11:37 UK time, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

Q: When can a serious story about radioactive poisoning be played for laughs?

A: When it's in a country far away and doesn't involve identifiable victims.

That at least is a conclusion that could be drawn from the Times's story about the actions of a disgruntled employee at an Indian nuclear power plant.

The worker is said to have contaminated the contents of a water cooler with a radioactive isotope.

Hardly LOL material, you might think... yet the Times embellishes the story with some of the hallmarks of a more jolly read:

  • the drop intro. Instead of starting the story with the hard facts, ie,
    Fifty-five employees were given emergency medical treatment, and two are still in hospital, after drinking water poisoned by a disgruntled colleague

    it opts for a softer start:

    "The setting was humdrum, the office water cooler, scene of idle chat, gossip swapping and occasional jollity"
  • The side-bar on workplace sabotage which embraces everything from an US postal worker killing 14 colleagues to the waggish antics of Bill Clinton's aides who removed the "W" keys from computers before vacating the White House for George W Bush
  • the cartoon - oh, yes - of a fish floating upside-down in a water cooler

Paper Monitor almost thought the whole story was just a bit of fun until it began to detail the risks of ingesting tritium - the substance in question. Long-term risks include:

"increased occurrence of cancer and genetic abnormalities in the children of those exposed"

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