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IAEA guides scrap industry on radioactive material

Global – The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has published a safety standard entitled ‘Control of Orphan Sources and Other Radioactive Material in the Metal Recycling and Production Industries’, which sets out related responsibilities for operators in the metal recycling industry, as well as for the production industries, governments and their regulatory bodies.

The safety guide recommends the application of a ‘graded’ approach to this issue on the basis of the size of the individual metal recycling and production facility, and on the radioactive material that it might reasonably be expected to encounter, explains the BIR world recycling organisation. ‘In practice, this means that small and medium-sized facilities should have some awareness of the problem and be able to visually recognize suspect material and know who to contact in the event of a discovery,’ it says. ‘On the other hand, large facilities should be equipped with radiation detectors and should have sufficient radiation protection expertise available to undertake an initial response and to isolate suspect material.’

The IAEA guide explains how, irrespective of the regulations within any state, radioactive material may become mixed with scrap metal destined for recycling after becoming lost from regulatory control and how it may enter the general environment. According to BIR, this supports the contention of scrap metal collectors, sorters and processors, as well as consuming metal works, ‘that they expressly do not want radioactive contamination entering their facilities’.

For international shipments, the guide requires metal recyclers to provide a statement indicating whether the scrap metal has been subjected to radiation monitoring and the results of this monitoring; and operators of large facilities are called on to conduct appropriate radiation monitoring to determine whether the scrap metal being processed and any resulting products – such as ingots and bars – and wastes are safe.

The guide makes explicit that a statement from a supplier giving the results of radiation monitoring ‘does not provide an absolute guarantee that the scrap metal does not contain radioactive material, in view of the difficulties of using monitoring equipment to detect and measure radioactivity in scrap metal’. Therefore, monitoring of scrap metal entering a facility ‘will still be necessary’.

In recognition of the importance of addressing this issue, BIR has been providing radioactivity advice on posters for some time. These are available in the following 10 languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.


The IAEA Safety Guide is downloadable at:

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