The nuclear establishment clearly has no real appreciation of the dangers of ionizing radiation, yet it is once again planning to disperse radioactive metal into commercial metal recycling to make items with which we and our children come into close, daily contact--be it Christmas toys, zippers on our pants, belt buckles, silverware, pots and pans, jewelry, cars---or maybe doggie bowls, tissue holders and bicycle baskets.
The last three items were recently found to be so radioactive they had to be tracked down and recalled. This has happened in past years as well—a cheese grater (after years of use in a home kitchen), fences, La-Z-Boy recliner chairs and table legs were found to be radioactive. One Christmas in the UK a kids’ Santa-land was found to be radioactive. Whether from deliberate release of nuclear metal into recycling or accidental melting of radioactive material into the mix, the goal needs to be prevention. But government agencies around the world are moving in the other direction.
The US Department of Energy (DOE)’s mission is to promote nuclear technology. With over a dozen weapons complex sites to manage, DOE and its sister agency National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) handle enormous amounts radioactive materials and wastes constantly. Their clean-up plans appear much cheaper if they can sell radioactive metal into recycling instead of pay for trying to isolate it from the environment for the decades to millennia it will remain radioactive.
In 2000, public attention was focused on several nuclear industry and regulatory to make it legal to let nuclear waste out of control and into everyday commercial recycling. Public opposition was loud and clear in the U.S. and resulted in a victory for the public, but to DOE and NNSA it was apparently just a long set-back on the unrelenting desire to not take proper care of nuclear waste. Then-Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson blocked the release of thousands of tons of volumetrically radioactive contaminated metal into everyday ecycling. It was a further success for the public and metal industry when he suspended the release of all scrap metal from radioactive areas of the US nuclear weapons complex from going into commercial recycling.
The DOE moratorium and suspension on release of radioactive metal into recycling for the past 13 years has prevented exposure to transport workers, metal workers, the public and the environment that cannot be quantified. But NNSA and DOE, tired of managing the waste and not wanting to pay the costs of disposal, are now moving to do away with the bans and resume dispersing radioactive metal into our lives.
The agencies expect to release an Environmental Assessment (EA 1919) for public comment before the end of 2012. It is expected to try to provide the authority to the DOE to approve the release of radioactive scrap metal into commercial recycling using either site specific or preapproved “authorized” limits, as if DOE and NNSA have the moral authority to contaminate the metal supply for the sake of costs. When the Secretary Richardson suspended recycling of scrap metal, he cited poor record keeping, unverifiable detection procedures, incomplete historical knowledge and inadequate or nonexistent documentation. Research carried out by NIRS in 2003 to 2007 confirmed these problems. Some are inherent and cannot be solved.
The fact that radiation is more harmful to women cannot be remedied by any amount of record keeping. The fact that kids are even more at risk makes this the radiation fight of our lives.
The Metal Industries Recycling Coalition, comprised of most metal industries’ trade associations (except aluminum), has opposed the release of radioactive metal into the recycling stream due to public concerns, worker concerns and enormous costs to decontaminate their facilities. They have worked hard to recycle as much as possible and persuade the public of the positive value of recycling, so don’t want to mix in any radioactive waste. Will DOE be able to convince them and the public that the metal from contamination areas is actually clean? Are we back to the conflict of interest inherent in the owners/managers of the waste being trusted to detect and isolate or release some detectable level of radioactivity? Will they choose some allowable contamination level or set the detectors so nothing detectable can get out. Neither is full prevention when there is no safe level of exposure.
The nuclear interests in the European Union demanded that all member states adopt, by 2004, “clearance” levels from the 1996 European Commission Directive 96/29/Euratom. The industry selected 10 microSieverts (or 1 millirem)/year as a clearance level but allowed an unlimited number of waste streams or truckloads--each of which could be released, making these unenforceable and unverifiable exposures.
In the U.S., efforts by the DOE, NRC and EPA were repeatedly stopped so, at the advice of the National Academy of Sciences, these efforts were moved to decentralized deregulation of wastes. Thus Tennessee became a major center taking nuclear waste for processing.” Without public knowledge, increasing amounts of nuclear waste have been going to regular trash landfills, some already leaking. Numerous radioactive incinerators operate in the state. Another has started in Washington near Hanford and there is one for medical research waste in Florida. In 2012, another processor opened shop on Lake Erie in Ohio, NewGreen. The owner is inviting the Bruce Steam generators to Ohio for processing. It is not clear whether New Green can send metal to commercial recycling, but it is also unclear how to prove they and the Tennessee processors are not doing so.
Following a series of setbacks due to public opposition, and under the guise of “harmonization,” U.S. agencies joined forces with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international industry groups to use their industry recommendations as justification for weakening U.S. standards. The NRC sought the authority of the National Academy of Sciences, hiring them to study how to let the waste out of regulatory control.
In 1988 without public knowledge, DOE adopted Internal Order 5400.5 and referred to Order 5820.2A which directed that some radioactivity could be considered “Below Regulatory Concern” (BRC), consistent with the BRC policy of the NRC. But Congress revoked NRC’s BRC policies in 1992 because of public, state and other industry opposition. DOE continued to use Chapters 2 and 4 of 5400.5 to release radioactively contaminated materials and property other than metal from DOE controls at higher levels than NRC had attempted (some at up to 100 millirems/year, or 1 milliSievert/year) if there were no other sources of exposure and in some cases for limited number of years, 500 millirems/year or 5 mSv/year. In 2011 DOE replaced 5400.5 with DOE Order 458.1 clarifying allowable releases. The new DOE Order is allegedly the justification for overturning the DOE bans.
A Sample Resolution is available against radioactive transport and melting into commercial metal. It started as an effort to stop steam generators from the Bruce Nuclear Power reactors in Canada being shipped through the Great Lakes, St Lawrence Seaway, Atlantic Ocean, and treacherous passages to the Baltic Sea for alleged cleaning and melting into metal for the everyday metal supply. Hundreds of organizations, individuals and many local governments came out against releasing nuclear waste into regular trash and recycling. It is time to reactivate and expand the knowledge about this unacceptable threat.
Source: Out of Control — On Purpose http://www.nirs.org/radwaste/outofcontrol/outofcontrolreport.pdf pp, 23-27.)