The Department of Energy recommends that scrap metal exposed on its surface to radiation be recycled if the metal is uncontaminated or if radiation levels are low enough. The department released a draft environmental assessment in December.
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the proposal includes about 350 metric tons of scrap metal at Los Alamos.
The scrap would include metal from file cabinets, tools, equipment and structural steel from demolished buildings. It would be mixed with other scrap metal and melted down for use in new products.
The head of a steel producers group said the proposal could risk contamination of food cans, building beams and car parts.
“Scrap metal that is potentially contaminated by radiation should not be released into the general stream of commerce. Period,” Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute, said in a Jan. 30 statement.
Robert Middaugh, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, said “only empirically defined clean metal will be candidate for release.”
“The material we propose to release is uncontaminated and poses no more risk than the scrap metals that ordinary citizens and small businesses routinely place in their recycling bins,” he said in an email statement. “Safety is the only thing that matters here and we will not move forward with any recycling unless we’re absolutely confident that it is entirely safe.”
The vast majority of scrap metal, he said, is not contaminated with radioactive materials. But all materials that were in radiological areas would be “surveyed and confirmed to be appropriate for release.”
A public comment on the draft assessment ends Monday.
In 2000, Bill Richardson, who was U.S. energy secretary at the time, decided against allowing sales of contaminated scrap metal.
Richardson said he found no evidence the public would be harmed but that the department needed to improve radiation monitoring, record keeping and independent verification.