Most people have no problem with recycling when they can-tin cans, cardboard, plastic bottles, etc. However, when it comes to more dangerous items such as nuclear and radioactive waste, recycling is not an option. If these recycled products are reused for consumer goods, this can put the population in serious danger. The bad news is that the government is currently talking about selling these scraps, placing them in the chain of production for everyday items.
So is the government trying to make us sick, or are they, in fact, making safe suggestions? Here are four points to help you understand this process better:
1. How Recycling Works
Most of us think we know what recycling is, but do we really? In a nutshell, recycling is the process of using one used product to create a brand new product, such as using recycled soda cans to make new soda cans. This process has many benefits for consumers and the planet. These include using fewer materials to make more products, less pollution of water and the air, and less energy use for production of goods.
2. Radioactive Scraps
Typically we think that nuclear and radioactive waste will never affect our lives because it is regulated and controlled by the government, particularly the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). However, there are three main types of these scraps and some of them are not regulated. The first type is the sources that are mixed with scrap, which most often occurs when it leaves the control of the EPA or other agency. This can include lost, stolen, or abandoned metals. The second type of contaminated scrap includes that which is contaminated during another process, such as drilling that releases radioactive minerals into the pipes, equipment, or land surrounding the area. Lastly there are legal scraps because they contain only a minimal amount of materials and these are not regulated.
3. Dangers of Radioactive Recycling
The Department of Defense has recently stated that they want to begin selling these pieces of scrap to processors in the scrap metal chain, placing them right alongside other non-contaminated scraps. For many years there was a policy in place that banned this type of metal from being placed into the chain; that policy is on its way out. One expert noted that if this were to happen, consumers would “be exposed to the equivalent of dozens of chest X-rays over their lifetimes…with no informed consent.” This can lead to high risks of leukemia and other types of cancer. This is a big risk to the public, as these scraps could be placed into everyday items, including watches, toys, belt buckles, zippers, glasses, pet bowls, and even leashes.
4. Keeping An Eye on What’s Next
If this plan works out as the DOD is proposing, approximately 14,000 tons of this dangerous scrap could be placed into our production streams. However, some critics and experts have stated that the scrap is in fact not dangerous for consumers. Many scrap yards will inspect and verify that scraps are not contaminated and will not accept them if they are. A second point is that the scrap the government is proposing to sell are items such as chairs, desks, cabinets, and building parts that come from nuclear power plants. If these items are contaminated, then those who worked there should be sick. However, there has not been any report of this. Are these scraps safer than we think?
Ryan Dixon is an engineering blogger and current resident of Houston, Texas. He writes this post with Dragon Products, a durable equipment manufacturer for many heavy-duty industries in the local Houston-area.