Friday, May 4, 2012

Radioactive Scrap Metal – a Global Issue

The world is becoming a smaller place. The accelerating pace of technology is pulling people together through communication, travel, business, and industry. Globalization makes it easier to for us to share – a phenomenon with both positive and negative implications. In the great melting pot of world industry, radiation contamination is proving to be an increasingly harmful side-effect. 

As discussed in the previous post, much of the radiation contamination of consumer goods has been linked to contaminated scrap metal. Metal used in the production of goods comes from a variety of sources and almost invariable contains a large amount of recycled materials – a fact that efficiency and environmental controls demand. The problem is that long-lasting radioactive scrap from sources such as medical equipment, food processing, mining equipment, and even decommissioned power plants, is making its way into smelters. The metal turned out from these contaminated batches spreads to other consumer goods – most of which are never checked for radiation.

A scrap metal foundry.  source

Another aspect that further complicates the scrap contamination problems is size – the scrap metal market is worth over $140 billion1. With so much material in flux, an unreported contamination event can send radioactive material to unknowing manufacturers across the globe.  Although the US has stopped over 120 major radioactive shipments since 20032, there is ample evidence that radioactive scrap is still slipping through the cracks.  For example, a Texas recycling facility accidentally created 500,000 pounds of radioactive steel byproducts after melting metal contaminated with cesium-137 according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission records for 2006.

Scrap yards and recycling operations truly are the primary line of defense against rogue radiation but most of these facilities are under no specific federal government or state regulations and reporting is often voluntary if problems are found.

We’ve seen the results of contamination close at hand – at a recent visit to the nearby landfill, we were told that almost every load of scrap metal that comes in sets off radiation detectors and has to be scanned a second time.

To aid in this crucial detection stage of industry and commercial operations, D-tect Systems has designed several radiation detectors that are sensitive and easy to mount.  The Rad-D is currently being used in hospitals, factories, embassies, and waste disposal locations.  It can easily be mounted to scan conveyor belts and integrate with existing security systems.  The Rad-DX, D-tect’s newest product, is smaller and more visually innocuous.  The Rad-DX also has novel mesh-networking abilities that allow an operator to monitor multiple radiation detectors in real time or look at past event logs.   
The Rad-D is easily mounted to a wall or pole and monitors for radiation in real time.
D-tect Systems is a supplier of advanced radiation and chemical detection equipment sold around the world.

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