contact: Harry Williams
voice: 423-693-7249

Oak Ridge Communities Allied (ORCA)* has publically opposed the agreement between Department of Energy (DOE), the State of Tennessee, and British Nuclear Fuels, Ltd (BNFL), to recycle volumetrically radioactive metal from the K25 site for unrestricted use in consumer products. At the same time, ORCA supports responsible remediation of the site using experienced union workers, with accountability to those most at risk–workers and the surrounding community.

The Oak Ridge community groups in ORCA are now joined by the Metal Industry Recycling Coalition (MIRC) in our opposition to this unethical, unsafe, and unregulated recycling practice. MIRC represents trade associations of the iron, steel, nickel, zinc, copper and brass industries. MIRC has written a letter to Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson calling for DOE to adopt a policy of restricted release of radioactively contaminated scrap metal, limited to reuse at a licensed nuclear facility or proper disposal.

Up until now, this issue has been simplistically portrayed in the press by Mike Mobley at Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, by DOE officials at Oak Ridge, and by local Congressman Zack Wamp as a battle between unions and irrational environmentalists on the one hand, and BNFL on the other, with DOE, NRC, and Tennessee appearing only to help BNFL, a foreign-owned corporation, clean up a federal Superfund site. Although the process was accomplished secretly, members of the Oak Ridge public interest community, along with PACE, the bargaining unit for workers at the site, first raised issues in public about why Tennessee was allowing the unrestricted release of radioactive metal which could be used for consumer products.

"Tennessee doesn't have rules about release of radioactive metals. Rather it was a secret, ad hoc, release limit. The limit was the identical one, curiously, proposed by BNFL," says Jackie Kittrell, President of ORCA , and General Counsel for American Environmental Health Studies Project (AEHSP). "Uptakes (internal exposures of alpha and beta particles) by workers in machine shops and industrial processes can -be very harmful. BNFL never even analyzed worker risk and the State of Tennessee, through its secretive licensing process, never required BNFL to examine the spectrum of worker risks to reusing radioactive metals. We are concerned that this unexamined practice will establish a precedent."

Now we see that MIRC, which represents the metal industries nationwide, does not want Tennessee to allow the unrestricted use of radioactive metal. They see such a program as undermining the whole program of metal recycling, including nickel-cadmium battery recycling. In its letter, MIRC states that radioactive recycling of scrap metal for unrestricted use risks "losing the public's trust in the integrity and safety of products made with metal."

Harry Williams, President of Coalition for a Healthy Environment, an ORCA member group, states, "Mr. Wamp told us that hazardous waste was a growth industry in Tennessee. That being said, those who would protect workers and the environment are not your enemy, Mr. Wamp. Your enemies are those at Oak Ridge Operations who do not know the difference between re-industrialization and de-industrialization."

Sandra Reid, Director of Oak Ridge Health Liaison, another ORCA member group, states, "We believe Representative Wamp and the public have been misled by self-interested revolving door DOE Oak Ridge Operations bureaucrats, and is regrettably jeopardizing legitimate metal. recycling nationwide. It is time for politicians and economic developers alike to re-evaluate their positions. Radioactive metal reuse will cause consumers to shy away from products made from recycled metals, leading to accelerated resource depletion from increased use of virgin materials, and thereby undoing the progress made by our society in recycling everything from washing machines to coke cans. Mr. Wamp and our regulators have trivialized the risks from radioactive metals recycling by comparing the levels of exposure with what one receives from an airplane trip or from a snowball."

Along with PACE, ORCA groups ask why Tennessee is setting a nationwide precedent for free release when this concept had been repeatedly rejected as unsound the last two times DOE attempted to free-release radioactive metals. Cliff Honicker, executive director of AEHSP, recalls, "The EPA rejected this idea of recycling radioactive metal 20 years ago, saying it did not make sense. Even if the industry could make the end product "below regulatory concern", there are some industrial processes that would be affected by any contamination of radioactivity in the metal. The practice of putting radioactive metal into the marketplace, however "mildly" contaminated, is in conflict with the nuclear industries most sacred public health rule of protection from radiation exposures, "ALARA", which stands for As Low As Reasonably Achievable."

Janet Michel, Secretary of CHE and ORCA, observes, "Zack Wamp and other politicians may have been misled about the stakes and the stakeholders by powerful special interests such as BNFL, and the two Oak Ridge Operations field managers who have quickly gone to work for BNFL and its subsidiary, Westinghouse----Joe LaGrone and Jim Hall."

* The Oak Ridge Communities Allied (ORCA) is a coalition made up of four watchdog community groups concerned about the environment, health, and safety in Oak Ridge. Our member groups are: American Environmental Health Studies Project (AEHSP), Coalition for a Healthy Environment (CHE), Oak Ridge Health Liaison (ORHL), and Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM).