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Scrap metal recycling is an increasingly international industry. Worldwide, recycled scrap metal is one of the most broadly traded commodities, representing a multibillion-dollar industry. International metal processing industries are very concerned about the importation of scrap metal contaminated by radioactivity:
- Through 2001, scrap yards and steel mills in North America alone experienced an estimated 10,000 plus detections of radioactive sources in recycled scrap metal1.
- Worldwide, more than 40 deaths and 266 serious injuries have been attributed to uncontrolled radioactive source incidents, some of them to contaminated scrap metal1.
- Cleanup costs for environmental and facility contamination from radioactive scrap metal average $12–15 million per incident1.
- Finished or intermediate products manufactured from radioactive scrap in foreign facilities have been shipped worldwide.
Radiation monitoring by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the metal processing industries is responsible for increased identification of these contaminated materials. EPA is working on several approaches to prevent entry of contaminated scrap metal into the United States.
On this page:
- Grapple-Mounted Radiation Detectors
- Convening an International Group of Experts
- Second Session of the Group of Experts
Grapple-Mounted Radiation Detectors
EPA conducted a pilot study of monitoring imported scrap metal for radiation2 using grapple-mounted radiation detection systems. Grapples are large claw-like devices, mounted on cranes, that grab assorted pieces of scrap metal and move it from ship based containers to land-based transportation containers. More than 2.3 million tons of metal were monitored at two U.S. ports during off-loading operations.
By monitoring each small, discrete volume of scrap metal as it is taken off the ship, any radioactive material could be identified and removed from loads being transported to metal processing facilities.
Convening an International Group of Experts
Since 1998, EPA has been working to secure uncontrolled radioactive sources and to prevent future losses. With an increasing number being detected, EPA proposed to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) that a Group of Experts be convened to discuss the issue. The proposed emphasis would be on identification of internationally acceptable solutions.
The meeting was designed to build on previous UNECE work described in the Report on the Management of Radiation Protection Aspects in the Recycling of Scrap Metal3. This report recommended measures to avoid the introduction of radiation sources into the metal recycling stream.
Prior to the meeting, a questionnaire was distributed by the UNECE to member nations and interested parties to determine the current state of scrap metal monitoring and regulation, particularly with respect to border crossings and points of entry. The responses to the questionnaire formed the basis for discussion at the meeting, which was held at the UNECE Headquarters in Geneva during April 2004.
The Group of Experts meeting attendees represented a range of monitoring expertise, from countries that have well-defined radiation monitoring programs to those wishing to initiate a program:
- government, customs, and industry representatives from 20 countries, each of which discussed their national programs and experiences
- International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
- World Customs Organization (WCO)
- Bureau of International Recycling (BIR)
- consultant to a scrap processing company
The Group of Experts identified three major needs for the near future:
Voluntary, international recommendations on scrap metal radiation monitoring and response - The Spanish Protocol4 provides for collaboration among various government agencies and industry to monitor for and dispose of unwanted radioactive materials in scrap metal. It has been used as a framework for developing broader recommendations. International Protocol UNECE poster (PDF) (1 pg, 1.13MB About PDF)
International training and capacity building programs on such topics as protocol implementation, optimum location of monitors, acceptable detector sensitivities, calibration and maintenance needs, incident reporting, handling radioactive materials after detection, and transportation.
An Internet-based, international information exchange for the scrap metal industry to share data and experiences on contaminated scrap incidents, especially those occurring at international borders. (The “open border” policy of the European Union makes the collection and dissemination of this information-sharing particularly time-critical.)
The results of the initial meeting2, along with the discussions of specific country programs are available electronically in the meeting report, Monitoring, Interception and Managing Radioactively Contaminated Scrap Metal 2004
Second Session of the Group of Experts: June 12-14, 2006
During the second session of the Group of Experts, held in June 2006, the participating countries and organizations reported on progress made since the initial meeting in 2004. Proceedings: Monitoring and Response Procedures for Radioactive Scrap Metal (PDF) (130 pp, 2.38MB About PDF) June, 2006
The Group updated responses to the Questionnaire, and based on the needs identified in these responses, drafted the Recommendations on Monitoring and Response Procedures for Radioactive Scrap Metal for review at the meeting. The Recommendations are based on best practices, industry standards, as well as national and international safety regulations and standards. They provide a framework to government officials and the metal processing industries for dealing with radioactive scrap metal. They also encourage responsible, effective, and coordinated responses to these contaminated materials during the prevention, detection and response phases. The Group of Experts finalized the Recommendations, and in December, 2006, published Recommendations on Monitoring and Response Procedures for Radioactive Scrap Metal (PDF) (52pp, 2.1MB About PDF) 2006
Following an international survey of available training materials, the Group of Experts developed a plan to support governments and the metal processing industry in implementing the Recommendations. The Group of Experts presents a comprehensive overview of elements needed for international training program and needs for capacity building to address gaps in knowledge in the document, International Training and Capacity Building Strategy for Monitoring and Response Procedures for Radioactive Scrap (PDF) (42 pp, 481K About PDF) 2007
The following documents
- Ray Turner, River Metals Recycling, Ft. Mitchell, KY, November, 2004 personal communication.
- United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). 2004. Monitoring, Interception and Managing Radioactively Contaminated Scrap Metal. ECE/TRADE/172, UNECE, Geneva, Switzerland.
- United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). 2002. Report on the Improvement of the Management of Radiation Protection Aspects in the Recycling of Metal Scrap. ECE/TRADE/278, UNECE, Geneva, Switzerland.
- United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). 2002. Report on the Improvement of the Management of Radiation Protection Aspects in the Recycling of Metal Scrap. ECE/TRADE/278, UNECE, Geneva, Switzerland, Annex 5, pg. 91-99.
- Proceedings: Monitoring and Response Procedures for Radioactive Scrap Metal (PDF) (130 pp, 2.38MB About PDF) June, 2006
- Recommendations on Monitoring and Response Procedures for Radioactive Scrap Metal (PDF) (52 pp, 2.1MB About PDF) 2006