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Behind the Scenes of Scrap Yards: IAEA Launches Online Tools on the Control of Radioactive Material Inadvertently Incorporated into Scrap Metal


To assist the metal industry and regulatory bodies with the control and safety of the people from radioactive materials, the IAEA has launched online tools – a knowledge platform called “toolkit” and a complementary e-learning course on the control of radioactive material inadvertently incorporated into scrap metal or semi-finished products of the metal recycling industries.

“With the increase in recycling worldwide, the metal recycling industry has become vulnerable to receiving sources inadvertently incorporated into scrap metal. We need to prevent any potential health, environmental and economic effects caused by the presence of radioactive material in scrap metal,” said Ronald Pacheco, Head of the IAEA Control of Radiation Sources Unit.

Scrap yards handle not only industrial but also household waste such as old kitchen appliances, office furniture or automotive parts. If not properly disposed, products containing a small amount of radioactive material can sometimes end up in a scrap yard.

Items with a small amount of radioactive material such as radioactive lightning rods can then be inadvertently recycled together with non-radioactive items – they can be melted, refined and cast to shape by metal works and foundries worldwide, which buy and re-use scrap metal.

Occasionally and unintentionally, such items are also transported across national borders. Incidents with sources in scrap yards happen a few times a year, and some of them are well documented.

As one of the toolkit case studies describes, an increased radiation level was detected at a border crossing in a rail car. The country’s radiation experts found a caesium-137 source and transported it to a waste management facility. Thanks to monitoring devices, the responsible authority was able to identify and trace the source back to a mining company, which used the source in a device for conducting measurements in mines. The device had been put out of service, forgotten and mistakenly transferred to a scrap metal facility, which later shipped it abroad.

How can the toolkit and e-learning course help?

“The goal of the toolkit and e-learning is to develop capabilities and share information and experiences for better control among our stakeholders and interested groups,” said Pacheco.

The toolkit contains a database of radioactive sources with a catalogue of previously detected radioactive material in the metal recycling industries with photos. It provides hands-on experience for users through case studies of previous incidents involving radioactive material unintentionally present in scrap metal with detailed description of such incidents. It can help users to identify sources and radioactive material when encountered and to foster better communication among different stakeholders including border authorities.

“This toolkit is a subject of great interest to members of the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) that are collecting, sorting, mechanically processing and pyro or hydro metallurgically processing metal and metal containing waste and scrap,” said Ross Bartley, the Trade & Environmental Director of the Bureau of International Recycling, the industry’s world federation, which represents over 30 000 recyclers in more than 70 countries around the world.

The toolkit showcases relevant resources such as the Control of Transboundary Movement of Radioactive Material Inadvertently Incorporated into Scrap Metal and Semi-finished Products of the Metal Recycling Industries, a publication resulting from past IAEA support in this area. It also contains materials for download such as IAEA safety standards, posters, videos and presentations from meetings on this topic.

Users can also find other useful tools such as a sample self-assessment questionnaire, and information of how to structure a radiation monitoring report, provided electronically or in paper form, or any other documentation associated with a consignment of scrap metal.

The e-learning material, complementary to the toolkit, discusses topics on the metal recycling sector, prevention, monitoring and detection, orphan sources, detection at borders and response, investigation and recovery among others. Upon completing the e-learning course, participants are awarded a certificate. You can sign up here

The toolkit can be accessed here.

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