Residents of Raini village in Chamoli district, who faced the worst brunt of the glacier outburst on February 7, suspect a radioactive device containing the generator with plutonium capsules to be the reason behind the fatal disaster.
The villagers, while speaking to reporters, recalled the 1965 joint expedition of US spy agency CIA and India's Intelligence Bureau to install nuclear-powered surveillance equipment on the summit of Nanda Devi. The expedition was called off midway due to bad weather.
Members of the expedition who rushed back to save their lives left the radioactive device at the base camp of Nanda Devi. When they returned a year later to retrieve the device, it was not to be found.
The villagers fear that the heat radiating from the equipment - which has a lifespan of 100 years - is responsible for the increased melting of snow in the region.
"If the device is buried under the snow somewhere in the area and is radiating heat, then, of course, there would be more melting of snow and further avalanches," TOI quoted Sangram Singh Rawat, a resident of Raini village as saying.
Capt Manmohan Singh Kohli, who in an interview to Times of India "the device is not active. There are four parts to the device – the generator with the plutonium capsules, two transmitter sets, and one big aerial to collect the radio waves – and they are all buried separately. If not connected together, there is very little possibility of anyone finding it."
State Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj had, in 2018, appealed to the central government to conduct a high-level search operation to find the device.
Deveshwar Devi, another villager, told the publication that a strong pungent smell accompanied the gushing snow and debris following the glacier break. "This has triggered concerns in our village that the long-lost radioactive device – about which our elders used to tell us," she said.
The glacier break led to massive flooding in Dhauli Ganga and Alaknanda Rivers, damaging houses and the nearby Rishiganga power project. Officials have so far confirmed 31 deaths, whereas, 197 others are reported to be missing.
In 1965, during a secret expedition to Nanda Devi, an atomic device got lost and continues to be missing and potentially hazardous to the people of India.