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Radioactive scrap plan sounds alarms

Keywords: Tags  Department of Energy, AISI, SMA, radiological scrap, ferrous scrap, nickel scrap, Tom Gibson, Eric Stuart Samuel Frizell

NEW YORK — A number of metal industry trade groups are rallying against a Department of Energy (DOE) proposal that some say could release up to 1 million tons of scrap from radiological areas, arguing that the potential negative health impacts far outweigh the benefits of increased scrap volumes on the market.

The American Iron and Steel Institute, the Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA), the Nickel Institute, the Copper and Brass Fabricators Council and other groups are preparing a critical commentary of the DOE’s proposal that they expect to release before the mandated comment period ends Feb. 11, AMM understands.

"Scrap metal that is potentially contaminated by radiation should not be released into the general stream of commerce," AISI president Thomas Gibson said in a statement. "Period."

Scrap material has not been released from radiological areas at DOE facilities for recycling since a departmentwide suspension was put in place in July 2000. However, the DOE is considering reviewing that practice and has requested feedback on a draft environmental assessment that—if accepted—would modify existing policies to allow undersecretaries to "manage the radiological clearance process for uncontaminated scrap metals in DOE radiological areas for sites demonstrated to have robust monitoring and release practices in place," according to a Federal Register notice (, Dec. 31).

It is unclear at this stage just how much scrap is stored at DOE radiological sites, where material is separated into "hot zones"—where scrap has more dangerous levels of radiation—and more innocuous zones, where scrap generally is deemed to be safer, industry sources said.

The DOE has estimated that around 15,000 tons of ferrous and nickel scrap would be released if the proposal were accepted, but industry insiders said that a much greater volume of material could be affected if material from different areas at the same radiological sites is counted.

"Some in the industry are concerned that there may be over 1 million tons of scrap metal at DOE facilities that would be eligible for release," Lisa Harrison, senior vice president of communications at the AISI, told AMM.

By the SMA’s estimate, the total amount of steel scrap at radiological sites is a "drop in the bucket" compared with total U.S. ferrous scrap and therefore not worth the potential environmental impact, Eric Stuart, SMA’s vice president of environment and energy, said. "Can you forgo ... scrap vs. the wellbeing of your facility and your personnel? To have unrestricted release, which is what this EA (environmental assessment) is looking to do, doesn’t help our process of guarding against possible radioactive sources or radioactive materials coming into electric-arc furnaces in the U.S."

The National Nuclear Security Administration estimates the market value of the materials at approximately $70 million.

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