Markey Questions DOE's Radioactive Recycling Proposal

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Markey Questions DOE’s Radioactive Recycling Proposal

Radioactive Scrap Metal Could be Turned into Consumer Products

WASHINGTON (January 11, 2013) – A Department of Energy proposal to allow up to 14,000 metric tons of its radioactive scrap metal to be recycled into consumer products was called into question today by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) due to concerns over public health. In a letter sent to DOE head Steven Chu, Rep. Markey expressed “grave concerns” over the potential of these metals becoming jewelry, cutlery, or other consumer products that could exceed healthy doses of radiation without any knowledge by the consumer. DOE made the proposal to rescind its earlier moratorium on radioactive scrap metal recycling in December, 2012.

The proposal 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.

“The public concerns associated with such a proposal cannot be understated,” writes Rep. Markey to Secretary Chu. “If these metals are being released to companies who will subsequently manufacture new consumer products from them, DOE simply has no way to ensure that different samples are not aggregated into more highly radioactive products.”

The full letter can be found HERE.

The letter notes that 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.

In the letter from Rep. Markey, DOE is asked how it could assure consumers that they will not be affected by higher doses of radiation from products using aggregated radioactive scrap metal, among other concerns.