Idaho State Journal
Idaho State Journal

INEEL to recycle radioactive metal

Wednesday, September 13, 2000

By Anne Minard
Journal Staff Writer
POCATELLO - Idaho could soon contribute radioactively contaminated metal to a newly revamped national recycling program.
The Department of Energy is studying ways to recycle radioactively contaminated scrap metals for use at DOE sites, rather than disposing of them as buried waste or in licensed receiving facilities.
DOE has maintained some recycling programs in the past, but suspended them all in July, prohibiting the release of any metal for recycling if it has detectable radiation. The suspension will continue through the end of the year, when the department expects to establish its recycling policy.
As a preliminary step, the DOE is seeking input from the metals industry in a potential project to recycle up to 60,000 tons of steel per year into waste containers or other items with restricted uses by the department.
The metal would come from department facilities that have been shut down and other environmental management activities across the DOE's large industrial complex.
One DOE official in Washington estimated that nationally, upwards of two million tons of scrap metal are in surplus storage and would be eligible for such a program.
"What we have in inventory now is stainless steel and carbon steel," said John Walsh, a spokesman at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. In all, the site holds more than 2,000 tons of scrap metals that are both contaminated and uncontaminated.
The re-evaluation of recycling policies followed a court battle waged last year by the Paper, Allied Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International (PACE) union in Oak Ridge over a radioactively-contaminated metals recycling program there.
While U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the lawsuit could interfere with cleanup of a related Superfund site and was therefore illegal, she outlined clear concerns resulting from more than a year of full legal disclosure.
"The potential for environmental harm is great, especially given the unprecedented amount of hazardous material the Defendants (BNFL Inc.) seek to recycle," she wrote in the June 1999 document. She went on to write that BNFL had not provided evidence of the safety of recycling nickel from a nuclear plant, as opposed to other methods of disposal.
"The court is further concerned by the fact that no national standard exists governing the unrestricted release of contaminated metals," the finding reads.

Anne Minard covers science and the environment for the Journal. She may be reached at 239-3168 or by e-mail at aminard@journalnet.com.