Markey Questions DOE’s Radioactive Recycling Proposal | Radioactive Scrap Metal Could be Turned into Consumer ProductsEnvironmental, Health and Safety News January 29th, 2013
Congressman Markey writes:
A Department of Energy proposal to allow up to14,000 metric tons of its radioactive scrap metal to be recycled into consumer productswas 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.
This is not the first time this has happened.
The Department of Energy has a problem: what to do with millions of tons of radioactive material. So the DOE has come up with an ingenious plan to dispose of its troublesome tons of nickel, copper, steel and aluminum. It wants to let scrap companies collect the metal, try to take the radioactivity out, and sell the metal to foundries, which would in turn sell it to manufacturers who could use it for everyday household products: pots, pans, forks, spoons, even your eyeglasses.
You may not know this, but the government already permits some companies under special licenses, to buy, reprocess and sell radioactive metal: 7,500 tons in 1996, by one industry estimate. But the amount of this reprocessing could increase drastically if the DOE, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission … and the burgeoning radioactive metal processing industry get their way.
They are pressing for a new, lax standard that would do away with special permits and allow companies to buy and resell millions of tons of low-level radioactive metal.
The standard the companies seek could cause nearly 100,000 cancer fatalities in the United States, by the NRC’s own estimate.
(A couple of years later, Congressman Markey successfullybanned most radioactive scrap … but now DOE is trying to bring it back.)
Radioactive scrap is a global problem. As Bloomberg reportedlast year:
“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?”
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