Bloomberg: Growing global threat of radiation-contaminated metal — Plutonium, weapons-grade uranium found — Chronic exposure to low doses of radiation can lead to cancer and birth defects

Published: March 19th, 2012 at 4:40 pm ET


Title: Nuclear Risks at Bed, Bath & Beyond Show Hidden Danger of Scrap
Source: Bloomberg
Author: By Jonathan Tirone and Andrew MacAskill
Date: Mar 19, 2012

The discovery of radioactive tissue boxes at Bed, Bath & Beyond Inc. (BBBY) stores in January raised alarms among nuclear security officials and company executives over the growing global threat of contaminated scrap metal. […]

Radioactive items used to power medical, military and industrial hardware are melted down and used in goods, driving up company costs as they withdraw tainted products and threatening the public’s health. […]

Chronic exposure to low doses of radiation can lead to cataracts, cancer and birth defects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A 2005 study of more than 6,000 Taiwanese who lived in apartments built with radioactive reinforcing steel from 1983 to 2005 showed a statistically significant increase in leukemia and breast cancer.  […]

India and China were the top sources of radioactive goods shipped to the U.S. through 2008, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Bartley, a metallurgist who has tracked radioactive contamination since the early 1990s, said there’s no evidence the situation has improved.

Weapons-Grade Uranium & Plutonium

“The major risk we face in our industry is radiation,” said Paul de Bruin, radiation-safety chief for Jewometaal Stainless Processing BV, one of the world’s biggest stainless- steel scrap yards. “You can talk about security all you want, but I’ve found weapons-grade uranium in scrap. Where was the security?” […]

Rotterdam-based Jewometaal, which found 145 nuclear items in scrap last year and 200 in 2010, reports incidents to Dutch authorities and the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency. De Bruin keeps pictures of the nuclear-fission chamber containing bomb-grade uranium and other scrap with plutonium that he’s uncovered using radiation monitors at his shipping yard. […]

Read the report here

The article reassures that the IAEA is working on the situation: “The Vienna-based IAEA is working with the scrap-metal industry to draft more stringent rules to increase radiation monitoring, bolster reporting requirements and improve disposal”

More on the IAEA: [intlink id=”bloomberg-exposes-conflicted-iaea-safety-division-is-a-marketing-channel-for-nuclear-technology-reveals-secret-us-docs” type=”post”]{{empty}}[/intlink]

More on radioactive scrap metal:

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  • [intlink id=”local-news-happened-bed-bath-beyond-tissue-boxes-place-item-available-purchase-online-video” type=”post”]{{empty}}[/intlink]
Published: March 19th, 2012 at 4:40 pm ET


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25 comments to Bloomberg: Growing global threat of radiation-contaminated metal — Plutonium, weapons-grade uranium found — Chronic exposure to low doses of radiation can lead to cancer and birth defects

  • TheBigPicture TheBigPicture

    Guess that means we'll be checking every single thing around us with Geiger counters.

    • aigeezer aigeezer

      Hi TheBigPicture. That's what I started to do a few weeks back, even though I'm a long way away from any of the geographical areas that get talked about as high radiation risks. Since there is so much noise and spin around as to what is or is not safe, I figured it's worth the price in order to draw my own conclusions and tune out the noise.

      Using a Geiger counter appropriately brings its own set of challenges and comes with a learning curve. It is not the perfect tool for testing food, but it's better than nothing.

      At least I don't have to worry any more that my government does not test my food or local environment. It would be great to see a real-time network of thousands of citizen-owned Geiger counters 24/7. The existing network is small, but it's a beautiful adaptation to the ongoing government silence/disinformation about all things nuclear.

      I hope to see you on the radiation network some time!

    • hbjon hbjon

      An interesting fact is that when one radiates a metal, it takes on approximately 100 times more radiation than other substances. What does this mean for you? What does this mean for Japan? Did they use thick sheet metal for shielding? I suppose sometimes it is better to shield the alpha at the risk of causing more beta and gamma.

    • AGreenRoad AGreenRoad

      La Hague; France's Nuclear Waste Nightmare; via A Green Road Blog

      Everyone in Europe is exposed to what amounts to an ongoing nuclear accident that never stops.

      • BreadAndButter BreadAndButter

        Hi AGreenRoad, thanks for adding that great documentary to your blog. Just a small remark: it's not a German film, it was produced by Arte France and its director/authors are French.

  • Grampybone Grampybone

    Oversight? Yeah we made sure it gets no funding…oh your going blind? Pay us 5 grand for eye surgery and don't you dare complain about the bill!!!


    Unlike the ongoing suggestions that food can be analyzed for radioactive contaminants with hand-held radiation detectors, this is one area where the use of such units – would – be helpful. We should initiate a discussion as to what units are reliable and cost effective…

    BTW. This is one of the reasons I take every effort to not buy Chinese made goods! Though it's difficult to avoid products that are made there, we should all make the effort to avoid bringing them into our homes until we've made a good-faith effort to buy from elsewhere…

    • aigeezer aigeezer

      Hi AFTERSHOCK. There's some discussion of the foreign goods issue over in the thread about burning nuclear waste in Tennessee. At risk of duplication, here are a couple of relevant snippets:

      — start of clip

      Note how the politicians postured in this article from Utah, compared to their posture in Tennessee. Allow for spin, of course.

      — second clip

      "EnergySolutions owns and operates a licensed landfill to dispose of radioactive waste approximately 60 miles west of Salt Lake City, UT in Tooele County, Utah and operates another in Barnwell County, South Carolina. The company also possesses technology to convert waste into alternative material such as durable glass, and is contracted by the United States Department of Energy to assist in waste conversion efforts."

      — end of clips

      We have also recently learned that in Japan, some of the incinerated nuclear waste winds up in concrete blocks, paving and the like.

      The point being that there has been some political posturing about "foreign nuclear waste", while at the same time there is apparently ongoing production from "domestic nuclear waste".

      I don't think hot particles care about country of origin, so your suggestion to test products makes sense to me – regardless of source. These days, if I want to buy something, I'll test first and look at labels second.


        @aigeezer: saw your posts throughout the day and wanted to salute your work. I've mentioned it in the past but at the risk of being repetitive, I love how you research into these matters. In fact, some of what you posted will be used on a project I'm undertaking with others. Thanks and keep it up!

        • aigeezer aigeezer

          Thanks, AFTERSHOCK. I think all of us sometimes wonder who is paying attention and if they "get it", and of course we're all fumbling around in the dark, as it were, at a time when we need all the information we can get.

          Best wishes for your project – you've whetted my appetite.

    • HoTaters HoTaters

      Units which are reliable for detecting alpha and contamination in food are beyond the reach of most consumers. They are expensive and not "cost effective" per se.

      Also — we are still left with the problem of trying to detect the alpha emitters.

  • jec jec

    So, low level radiation exposure causes leukemia and cancer when radioactive steel was used in buildings where people lived for about 10 yrs..significant increase…

    And in Japan..the contamination will NOT cause the same result??? Or worse? What are the authors of these studies thinking of? They have a petri dish where only a certain segment being tested is different than other "guinea pigs"???? Its going to be more than just "significant" when cancers start showing up in the children exposed in Japan.

  • redred

    Thing is they've been at this in the US for a long time. In her 1985 book, Rosalie Bertell talks about schools, roads and even hospitals being constructed using tailings from uranium processing. The cancers amongst the US population must already be significant.

  • lam335 lam335

    "Industry and regulators are working to define an allowable limit for radiation in products that isn’t hazardous to customers’ health, according to the draft copy of the new IAEA rules for scrap handlers."

    This is probably necessary, but it is a double-edged sword. Once there is a lower limit on radioactivity in metal, producers will consider it acceptable to allow contamination up to that level in the metal they sell and the products they manufacture.

    • aigeezer aigeezer

      Yes, lam335, and the Japanese experience suggests that governments will adjust the level upwards every time the actual amounts approach the existing limits.

      I think another problem with limits is that the concept sabotages the subtle truth that there is no minimum safe dose. A statistically safe dose will still be fatal to some unlucky few people.

      There is an old joke about a statistician who drowned in a river that had an average depth of one foot. Not so funny these days.

      To my eye there are two other things horribly amiss in the item you quote about "industry and regulators working to define" a limit. First, the tag-team aspect of "industry and regulators" – that kind of too-close relationship has caused many of the problems we face today, across all industries. Second is the closed-club aspect of "industry and regulators". There is not even a pretense that the public at large should decide how much risk it is willing to take. The "industry and regulators" team will decide for them.

      These systems must change, in my opinion.

      • lam335 lam335

        Yes. Very good points. And the industry people will ensure that the limit is not "unreasonably low," from their perspective, using the familiar rationale that "we live in a radioactive world anyway" and cement and tiles often contain radioactive materials, so what's the difference (conveniently forgetting the fact that the effects of rad exposure are cumulative, so if we're already naturally being exposed to some, that's all the more reason why we shouldn't unnecessarily be exposed to even more).

        Remember also that it was the Department of Energy that was pushing to recycle what it labelled "low-level" contaminated metal back in the 1990s. The DOE (i.e., the "regulators") has tremendous amounts of contaminated metal on their own hands which I'm sure they'd like to sell as a resource instead of paying to dispose of it properly.

        But once you taint the world's metal supply, there's no way to de-contaminate it. And metal is used in a number of medical and dental applications where pieces of it get implanted into people's bodies either permanently or at least long-term. There won't be any way to ensure that a separate bio-medical/dental supply of metal is kept un-contaminated. They can't even keep track of the radioactive sources that are already out there that are supposed to be carefully regulated.

        And just wait until all of those contaminated cars from Japan's tsunami zone make their way into the mix.

  • obewanspeaks obewanspeaks

    Yummy and specially created only for us Dummies.

    Time to end this Nuclear Fiasco before its to late.

    Soon everything will be Hot and Radioactive on Planet Earth.

  • PhilipUpNorth philipupnorth

    Aftershock says: "Unlike the ongoing suggestions that food can be analyzed for radioactive contaminants with hand-held radiation detectors, this is one area where the use of such units – would – be helpful. We should initiate a discussion as to what units are reliable and cost effective…"
    I made that suggestion here, but am learning that food must be mashed up, and put into a $15,000 detector to determine radiation dose. I use my PRM-8000 on everything that comes into the house. My shoes now get dropped off at the door. Even so, the interior of my home is about as "hot" as my yard.

    • aigeezer aigeezer

      "Antiprotons", are you reading this? Could you make a video for people like me and philipupnorth (and perhaps thousands of others who don't know it yet)?

      Something really specific about food testing with limited resources? Something even more food-focused than your existing vids?

      I'm at about the same stage in the learning curve as Philip, and I too have a PRM-8000. Luckily for me, I'm getting low readings so far, but I'm in an obscure part of the planet.

      These links have been posted elsewhere, but I put them here for completeness. I like these vids, but I want more, more, more. 😉

    • gottagetoffthegrid


      I think what they mean is if you want to measure the PRECISE activity of a food product in Bq/kg you need to follow the procedure you have described.

      radiation shoots out in all directions, but hand-held units only measure a small area of the sphere being radiated into, and will therefore only provide an approximation of the activity — a LOW approximation.

      the high precision detectors also use germanium scintillators that are typically liquid nitrogen cooled. these detectors give an accurate measure of which isotopes are present.

      one thing for sure, they (whomever "they" might be) do not want anyone self-testing their food. Heath Canada has stopped testing pacific seafood, and the sure as shit don't want anyone else to. Data is their biggest worry. no data, no problems.

      • gottagetoffthegrid

        heres the reference for the Canada not testing sea food:

        Only one of the 169 tested products showed any radiation. CFIA stopped doing the tests last June, saying they weren’t needed.

        “The quantities of radioactive material reaching Canada are very small and within normal ranges,” CFIA spokesperson Lisa Gauthier said in an emailed statement.

        “They do not pose any health risk to Canadians, the food we eat or the plants and animals in Canada.”

        In August, CFIA also tested a dozen samples of fish caught in B.C. coastal and inland waters. None of those tests found any radiation.

        CFIA said it has no plans to perform any other radiation tests on fish in the Pacific or imports from other nations that fish in the ocean, including Japan.

        CFIA now relies on Japanese authorities to screen Japanese food exported to Canada.

        But Japan’s monitoring of food has come under a storm of criticism from the Japanese public after food contaminated with radiation was sold to consumers.

        A Canadian seafood industry official was surprised when told CFIA doesn’t plan any more tests of Pacific fish.


        • aigeezer aigeezer

          Hi gotta. Yeah, that kind of thing is why I bought a Geiger counter (I'm in Canada). I'm glad I did, but clearly it's not enough, at least with my relatively unsophisticated way of using it.

          Maybe lots of good advice will accumulate here over time.

          Meanwhile, I hope it's not gottagetoffthegriddle and not just gottagetoffthegrid. So far, various people have warned about radiation in seafood, beef, dairy, soy, rice, leafy vegetables, water(!)… probably lots more. It would be nice to actually know before we eat, and I don't think anyone is in a mood to trust government or industry sources any more.

      • PhilipUpNorth philipupnorth

        gottagetoffthegrid: Got it. Makes complete sense that you cannot come up with a dose per kilogram measurement with a handheld GC.

        Radiation takes time to disperse into an ecosystem like the Pacific Ocean. It takes time to bioaccumulate up the foodchain into the meat of top preditors like tuna. CFIA is saying to Canadians: "Support by eating." I find the Japanese campaign to normalize dangerous contamination levels in food morally reprehensible. Pacific seafood is off my diet.

        Homeland Security and the Coast Guard in the US like to boast about the sensitivity of the radiation detectors they use to check shipping containers arriving at US ports. What do you want to bet that those radiation alarms are driving port workers crazy these days. What would you want to bet that radiation checks of shipping containers entering US ports have been quietly suspended along the west coast.

        • aigeezer aigeezer

          Hi philipupnorth. I don't know how governments can reconcile the boast you speak of, "about the sensitivity of the radiation detectors they use to check shipping containers arriving at US ports" against items like "… expects Tennessee to become “the destination for processing radioactive waste from all over the world.”" I imagine all that stuff comes in through the ports also – probably East Coast or Gulf, I would guess.

          Anyway, in case people missed it, it's a big theme in another thread: