WASHINGTON (January 11, 2013) – A Department of Energy proposal to allow up to 14,000 metric tons of its radioactive scrap metal to be recycled into consumer products was called into question today by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) due to concerns over public health. In a letter sent to DOE head Steven Chu, Rep. Markey expressed “grave concerns” over the potential of these metals becoming jewelry, cutlery, or other consumer products that could exceed healthy doses of radiation without any knowledge by the consumer. DOE made the proposal to rescind its earlier moratorium on radioactive scrap metal recycling in December, 2012.
The proposal follows an incident from 2012 involving Bed, Bath & Beyond stores in America recalling tissue holders made in India that were contaminated with the radio-isotope cobalt-60. Those products were shipped to 200 stores in 20 states. In response to that incident, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesperson advised members of the public to return the products even though the amount of contamination was not considered to be a health risk.
The letter notes that in 2000, then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson first suspended DOE’s radioactive recycling efforts in response to concerns raised by Rep. Markey and others that DOE would not be able to assure public safety as radioactively contaminated metals could have been turned into everything from baby spoons to jewelry to medical devices that are implanted into the human body. In December 2012, however, DOE proposed to do away with the ban on radioactive recycling.
◇On the “incident … involving Bed, Bath & Beyond stores in America recalling tissue holders made in India that were contaminated with the radio-isotope cobalt-60,” see The Growing Global Threat of Radioactive Scrap Metal. “Radioactive items used to power medical, military and industrial hardware are melted down and used in goods, driving up company costs as they withdraw tainted products and threatening public health.
“The major risk we face in our industry is radiation,” said Paul de Bruin, radiation-safety chief for Jewometaal Stainless Processing, one of the world’s biggest stainless-steel scrap yards. “You can talk about security all you want, but I’ve found weapons-grade uranium in scrap. Where was the security? … Cleaning a smelter of radioactive material that was erroneously melted inside can cost a company up to $53 million and disrupt production for a week, de Bruin said….ndia and China were the top sources of radioactive goods shipped to the U.S. through 2008, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Bartley, a metallurgist who has tracked radioactive contamination since the early 1990s, said there’s no evidence the situation has improved.”
◇See also Scrap-Metal Plan Proves Radioactive
◇Consider also Smoke Detectors and Radiation