September 2001


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Ivan Handler <[log in to unmask]>
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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 3 Sep 2001 19:36:29 -0500
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Sources:   Reuters <>   | <>  |  AP

Monday September 3 6:38 PM ET

    Nuclear Waste Recyclers Target Consumer Products

By Allyce Bess

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Orthodontists could soon be giving their patients
more than they bargained for with their brand new braces: a mouthful of
radioactive waste.

Under a Department of Energy plan, braces aren't the only product which
could contain radioactive waste. Zippers, lawn chairs, hip replacements
and countless other consumer products could include trace amounts of
waste taken from nuclear reactors or weapons complexes and recycled into
scrap metal.

The Department of Energy (DOE) sees the recycling as a way to clean up
waste at decommissioned nuclear plants and weapons facilities, but
environmental groups call the idea ridiculous.

``It's hard to imagine a nuclear enterprise more tone deaf to public
concerns or a more cockamamie scheme than taking radioactive waste and
disposing of it in consumer products,'' said Dan Hirsch, president of
nuclear watchdog group Committee to Bridge the Gap.

The energy department will spend the next 12 months to 18 months
studying the environmental and health risks of the plan, having held 12
public hearings in six cities this summer, said DOE spokesman Joe Davis,

Critics say recycling radioactive waste, even at low levels, is
reckless. But energy officials say that the government needs to look at
all options for getting rid of the growing pile of hazardous wastes.
Proponents of the plan say that by spreading small, non-lethal amounts
into recycled scrap, the need for large waste dumps could be avoided.


A moratorium was placed on radioactive recycling last year by former
Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson after environmental groups protested
the possible sale of 6,000 metric tons of contaminated nickel from the
energy department's Oakridge nuclear facility in Tennessee to scrap
metal dealers.

But under the Bush administration, the program is being revisited and
the energy department is considering lifting the moratorium. But before
that, it is required by law to conduct a thorough study on the safety
risks of recycling radioactive waste.

The proposal does not specify any uses for scrap metal containing the
radioactive waste, but metal industry executives say the material would
go into the supply of scrap metal and could be used to make anything.

Even the study has proven problematic. The DOE recently dropped Science
Applications International Corp. (SAIC) -- which it initially chose to
conduct the study and prepared a report -- because of its business
partnership with British Nuclear Fuels Limited, the company that last
year was going to contract with the government to help sell the waste
from the Oakridge facility.

Hirsch of the Committee to Bridge the Gap said it was an enormous
potential conflict of interest. SAIC's report ``is quite dangerous in
terms of arguing how much radioactivity would be acceptable for use in
consumer products.''

The energy department has not said who was hired to complete the study,
but some are arguing that the level of radiation in any recycled
materials would be too low to actually pose a health risk.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade association representing some 260
companies in the nuclear power industry, has lobbied in favor of
radioactive recycling and says the public may be overly concerned.

``Concern is healthy,'' said Felix Killar, director of material licenses
for the institute. ``But people need to understand the facts. This isn't
truly radioactive waste. It's no more radioactive than any other
material recycled in to consumer products.''

Killar continues: ``There isn't a place on Earth that is totally free of


John Wittenborn, attorney for the Metal Industries Recycling Coalition
(MIRC), comprised of a variety of metal industry trade groups, says
their polls indicate the public doesn't buy the idea that nuclear waste
can be safely recycled into everyday products.

``We've spent a lot of time and effort to build the perception that
products made from recycled materials are safe and good and that
recycling itself is something that society should be in favor of,'' said
Wittenborn, whose group strongly opposes recycling of radioactive waste
into scrap metal.

Beyond the public image problem the industry would face in using the
recycled waste, companies are concerned about the potential
contamination of their mills and workers.

Wittenborn says it can cost from $5 million to $15 million to shut down,
inspect by hand and then clean a steel mill that has registered
radioactivity above a background level.

Recently, Wittenborn attended an energy department public hearing on the
issue in Crystal City, Virginia where he presented his polling data and
the metal industry's case.

In fact, those who have attended the hearings say most of the comments
have opposed lifting the moratorium on radioactive recycling.

``The observer might ask 'Why does the DOE continue to propose to do
this if no one is willing to come forward and testify on behalf of
it?''' said Dan Guttman, executive director of President Clinton's
Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments,

``This is being cast as a question of convincing the hysterical public
that a little radiation is OK.''

Ivan Handler
Networking for Democracy
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