Groups oppose radioactive scrap metal proposal

Groups oppose radioactive scrap metal proposal

By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling

A proposal from the U.S. Department of Energy that would allow scrap metal from government nuclear sites to be recovered for recycling is drawing fire from critics who worry that the public will be exposed to contaminated consumer goods.

The DOE is currently soliciting feedback on a proposal to recover scrap metal from radiological areas operated by the department.

The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports that the proposal is in line with department policy of reusing materials whenever possible, and 14,000 tons of metal could be initially released for recycling. The sale of the metal, which would originate from research laboratories and nuclear-weapons-related facilities, could bring in $10 million to $40 million annually, the paper reports. The DOE contends that the amount radiological contamination would be negligible, according to the Journal.

However, not everyone is comfortable with the idea.

"We are concerned about what could happen in the marketplace if you have to worry about radioactive material possibly being in your eyeglass frames," Thomas Danjczek, president of the Steel Manufacturers Association, a trade group whose members use recovered metals, told the paper. "Why is the government trying to hurt the image of American products?"

Danjczek also told the paper that is difficult and expensive to prevent the comingling of contaminated metals.

"This proposal is unwise, and should be immediately abandoned," wrote Rep. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, in a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

The letter expresses the congressman's "grave concerns" that recycling the metal into consumer products could expose radiation to "pregnant women, children or other vulnerable populations." He also cited an incident a year ago where Bed Bath and Beyond recalled tissue holders made in India that were contaminated with radiation. Additionally, it mentions that one of Chu's predecessors, Bill Richardson, suspended a similar effort in 2000 in response to public concerns.

The Nuclear Information and Resource Service is currently circulating a petition against the proposal, saying that if it goes forward it will result in more regulation of radioactive materials from DOE.

"The ban must not be lifted, but should be made permanent and expanded to keep all radioactive waste — plastic, concrete, soil, asphalt, etc. in addition to all metals — under control, out of commercial recycling and managed as the deadly hazard it is," wrote Nukewatch's John LaForge in Counterpunch.

The public comment period ends Feb. 11.

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