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The hidden danger of radioactive scrap metal

Chronic exposure to low doses of radiation can lead to cataracts, cancer and birth defects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A 2005 study of more than 6,000 Taiwanese who lived in apartments built with radioactive reinforcing steel from 1983 to 2005 showed a statistically significant increase in leukemia and breast cancer….

Nuclear Risks at Bed, Bath & Beyond Show Hidden Danger of Scrap Bloomberg, By Jonathan Tirone and Andrew MacAskill – Mar 20, 2012 Going shopping? Don’t forget your wallet and credit card. Or Geiger counter.

The discovery of radioactive tissue boxes at Bed, Bath & Beyond Inc. (BBBY) stores in January raised alarms among nuclear security officials and company executives over the growing global threat of contaminated scrap metal.

While the U.S. home-furnishing retailer recalled the boutique boxes from 200 stores nationwide without any reports of injury, the incident highlighted one of the topics drawing world leaders to a nuclear security meeting in Seoul on March 26-27. The bi-annual summit, convened by President Barack Obama for the first time in 2010, seeks to stem the flow of atomic material that has been lost, stolen or discarded as trash.

As U.S. and European leaders tackle the proliferation of weapons-grade uranium or plutonium in countries like Iran and North Korea, industries are confronting the impact of loose nuclear material in an international scrap-metal market worth at least $140 billion, according to the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling. 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 the public’s health.

“The major risk we face in our industry is radiation,” said Paul de Bruin, radiation-safety chief for Jewometaal Stainless Processing BV, 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?”

Hammers and Screwdrivers

More than 120 shipments of contaminated goods, including cutlery, buckles and work tools like hammers and screwdrivers were denied U.S. entry between 2003 and 2008 after customs and the Department of Homeland Security boosted radiation monitoring at borders. ……

“The general public basically isn’t aware that they’re living in a radioactive world,” according to Ross Bartley, technical director for the recycling bureau, who said the contamination has led to lost sales. “Those tissue boxes are problematic because they’re radioactive and they had to be put in radioactive disposal.”

Cataracts and Cancer

Abandoned medical scanners, food-processing devices and mining equipment containing radioactive metals such as cesium-137 and cobalt-60 are picked up by scrap collectors, sold to recyclers and melted down by foundries, the IAEA says. Dangerous scrap comes from derelict hospitals and military bases, as well as defunct government agencies that have lost tools with radioactive elements.

Chronic exposure to low doses of radiation can lead to cataracts, cancer and birth defects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A 2005 study of more than 6,000 Taiwanese who lived in apartments built with radioactive reinforcing steel from 1983 to 2005 showed a statistically significant increase in leukemia and breast cancer….

This month’s Seoul nuclear-security summit will deal for the first time with the threats posed by uncontrolled radioactive sources, said Elena Sokova, executive director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non- Proliferation.

An October 2008 delivery of radioactive elevator buttons assembled by Mafelec, a Chimilin, France-based company that makes control and signaling gear, contained radioactive metal shipped from India. Employees who handled the buttons were exposed to three times the safe dose of radiation for non- nuclear workers, according to regulators at the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire, France’s nuclear energy watchdog. Mafelec said at the time it had cut ties with the Indian supplier.

India 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…… http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-19/nuclear-risks-at-bed-bath-beyond-show-hidden-danger-of-scrap.html

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March 20, 2012 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, environment, USA

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