It sounds like a horror movie: A government agency decides to recycle surplus radioactive scrap metal and let the tainted metal be incorporated into cookware and other consumer items. But it is not science fiction. It is a real, imminent health disaster on the verge of taking place in the near future in the United States.
Late last year, the Department of Energy (DOE) released a proposal to recycle at least 14,000 tons of radioactive metal into the consumer market. And there’s a lot more where that’s coming from. It’s quite possible that DOE could eventually unload even more radioactive scrap.
The metal comes from a variety of objects from decommissioned nuclear sites, including tools, filing cabinets and structural steel from buildings. According to the DOE’s plans, the material will be mixed with ordinary scrap to make belt buckles, water bottles, food cans, braces, cookware and wide variety of other items.
To add to the danger, once the metal enters the supply chain, there is no way for consumers to identify which products are radioactive. People will need their own personal Geiger counters to determine whether a product is safe.
This is not the first time such a plan has been floated. A similar scheme briefly saw daylight in the 1990s before it was tabled due to consumer complaints. Since 2000, the DOE has banned recycling radioactive materials. However, the department is now trying to reverse that policy.
Why is DOE doing this? That’s a very good question. Nobody is asking for these materials to be used in products. Consumers don’t want them because they could pose serious health risks. Steelworkers want them even less, since they would experience the most exposure. Clearly, the DOE has other motivations.
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