Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) today introduced legislation to stop a Department of Energy proposal that would allow up to 14,000 metric tons of its radioactive scrap metal to be recycled into consumer products. DOE is pushing to implement its proposal to sell off the radioactive metal as scrap. That metal could then be used to create jewelry, cutlery, or other consumer products, potentially exceeding safe doses of radiation without any knowledge by the consumer.
"Putting radioactive metal into the supply chain could place workers, consumers, and others at risk," said Rep. Markey, a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. "Instead of recycling radioactive metal for consumer use, we should put this idea where it belongs -- in the trash bin."
The proposal by DOE follows an incident from 2012 involving Bed, Bath & Beyond stores in America recalling tissue holders made in India that were contaminated with the radio-isotope cobalt-60. Those products were shipped to 200 stores in 20 states. In response to that incident, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesperson advised members of the public to return the products even though the amount of contamination was not considered to be a health risk.
In 2000, then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson first suspended DOE's radioactive recycling efforts in response to concerns raised by Rep. Markey and others that DOE would not be able to assure public safety as radioactively contaminated metals could have been turned into everything from baby spoons to jewelry to medical devices that are implanted into the human body. In December 2012, however, DOE proposed to do away with the ban on radioactive recycling.
Rep. Markey's legislation was cheered today by the trade association representing American steelmakers, groups concerned with public health effects of irradiated metal, and many others.
"By prohibiting the sale, trade, barters, or transfers of any metal that has been used or stored in a radiological area, this legislation will help ensure an uncontaminated scrap metal supply that is vital to the prosperity of the U.S. and North American steelmaking industry," writes Thomas Gibson, the President of the American Iron and Steel Institute.
"DOE is threatening the United States and international metal supply physically and economically with radioactive metal. We support the Markey bill which will keep radioactive metal waste from nuclear weapons out of metal recycling, regular trash and the metal objects we contact daily," said Diane D'Arrigo, Radioactive Waste Project Director at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.