Radioactive materials that have been inadvertently incorporated into scrap metal and semi-finished metal products may pose potentially severe health, environmental and financial consequences. Although the metal recycling sector has a large international dimension, among States there is a lack of consistency in the monitoring for radioactive material in scrap metal and subsequent actions that are taken after radioactive material is identified.
"Currently, a gap exists in the Global Radiation Safety Framework in that the metal recycling industry does not implement adequate provisions to ensure that radioactive material is not introduced into such consignments and that radioactive material that is discovered is handled safely," says Radiation Safety Specialist, Mr. Eric Reber.
The IAEA is developing a Metal Recycling Code of Conduct to close this gap and harmonize States' approaches regarding the issue. A Code of Conduct of this type will help establish an international consensus on provisions to prevent the transboundary movement of scrap metal containing radioactive material.
During the Agency's 56th General Conference, the Nuclear Safety and Security Programme organized a side event focusing on the current status and future development of this Code of Conduct. Hosted by the Government of Finland, the event gave IAEA experts the opportunity to interact with Member States and inform them about the development and importance of the Code.
"We believe that the Metal Recycling Code of Conduct is an important initiative for establishing control over radioactive material that may have been inadvertently incorporated into scrap metal," said Mr. Pil-Soo Hahn, Director of the IAEA Division of Radiation, Transport, and Waste Safety, in his opening speech.
Ms. Marjatta Rasi, Ambassador of Finland, also addressed the participants during the side event: "This issue has gained further international significance as the impending scarcity of raw materials will force metal cycles to be tightened everywhere, and this puts more emphasis on safe but also economically attractive recycling of metals."
Efforts to apply a common international approach started at the 2009 International Conference on Control and Management of Inadvertent Radioactive Material in Scrap Metal, held in Tarragona, Spain. The Conference called for the establishment of an international agreement on the transboundary movement of scrap metal.
The development process of a Code of Conduct began in Vienna in 2010, with the drafting of its preliminary text. Since then, advancements to the text have been made during two open-ended Technical Meetings in 2011 and 2012, and through its circulation to Member States for comment in April of this year. A third open-ended meeting on the Code's development is scheduled for 25 February to 1 March 2013.
The draft Metal Recycling Code is inspired, in part, by the so-called Spanish Protocol, a voluntary agreement involving trade unions, industry and the government. This approach emerged in response to the 1998 Acerinox incident, which involved the undetected melting of a Cesium-137 source at a steel manufacturing facility. The Spanish Protocol was created to prevent such accidents from happening by detecting radioactive materials and managing those that are discovered safely in order to protect people and the environment.
Radioactive material that is discovered in scrap metal is typically orphan sources or radioactively contaminated material that is not under regulatory control and naturally occurring radioactive material.