Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson yesterday suspended the release of potentially contaminated scrap metals from recycling from Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear facilities.
The suspension is part of a new policy aimed at ensuring contaminated materials are not recycled into consumer products and at improving the department's management of scrap materials at its nuclear weapons production sites.
"I am making this decision to ensure American consumers that scrap metal released from DOE facilities for recycling contains no detectable contamination from departmental activities," said Richardson. "This suspension will remain in effect until our sites can confirm that they meet this new more rigorous standard."
DOE's existing standards result in radiation exposure that is already far below what is allowed by federal policy. Detection equipment currently available will enable the department to do even better.
The department also is initiating a feasibility study on the possibility of recycling steel from decommissioned facilities into waste containers or other items needed by DOE.
A preliminary review completed last May concluded that the concept merits a more detailed study.
Richardson also announced other steps to improve record keeping and reporting as well as acceleration of the department's program to collect some types of commercially owned, radioactive sources that are no longer in use.
Sealed radioactive sources are used in a variety of measurement, calibration and other activities.
These sources can pose significant risks to steelworkers or the public if abandoned or illegally disposed.
Organizations representing the production of steel in the United States unanimously applauded Richardson's decision to suspend the release of the potentially contaminated scrap into the general stream of commerce.
"We welcome these additional actions on the part of the secretary to address the many problems associated with 'free release' of radioactivity contaminated scrap," said Andrew G. Sharkey, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).
Radiated scrap is a multi-faceted problem, according to John L. Wittenborn, environmental counsel to the Specialty Steel Industry of North America (SSINA).
"We and our sister steel organizations will definitely participate fully in the open processes called of by the order and we look forward to helping DOE reach the right conclusions on the questions still outstanding."
Among them, AISI, SSINA and the Steel Manufacturers Association represent virtually all producers of carbon and specialty steels in the United States.
by Virginia Sutcliffe