Where There's Muck There's Radioactive Brass

New research recently undertaken by Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) identifies a growing risk to the UK metals recycling industry from radioactively contaminated sources. In their free report "Radioactive Scrap Metals", they call for a national monitoring and detection scheme, more help to the industry to improve surveillance and government compensation for businesses which suffer loss from radioactive incidents.

The NFLA research is sponsored by Steel Action, the local authority lobby for steel producing areas, and the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, the biggest industry union. The industry trade body, the British Metals Federation, has also given its support to highlight this growing hazard.

Since February 1999 the Environment Agency for England and Wales has been notified of 16 radioactive incidents in the metals recycling industry. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that world wide there are ".increasing amounts of scrap originating from decommisioning of nuclear reactors, weapons and submarines."

photo: scrap metal

The European Commission estimates the volume of slightly radioactive metals within the EU which could be released onto the open market will quadruple in the next decade to about 40,000 tonnes per year. The NFLA research identifies the potential for more highly radioactive materials to enter scrap metals supply, either accidentally or through unscrupulous dealings.

If radioactive metals are recycled into new consumer goods (e.g. cars, domestic white goods and other household items) then this will add to the exposures already received by the public from human-made radioactive sources.

Rotherham Councillor Ken Wyatt, Chair of NFLA, said,

"The metals recycling industry wants to keep contaminated scrap and radioactive sources out of its products to maintain customer confidence. To do this, tighter monitoring of the industry's scrap metal supply is needed, particularly over imports. The industry also needs a scheme of compensation to help dealers and operators affected by costly radioactive incidents."

Stewart Kemp, Nuclear Free Zones (0161 234 3244, nfznsc@gn.apc.org)

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