Radioactive Beer Kegs Menace Public, Boost Costs for Recyclers

Scrap metal is processed at the Jewometaal Stainless Processing B.V. in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, on Tuesday, April 22, 2008. Photographer: Roger Cremers/Bloomberg News

Nov. 11 (Bloomberg) — French authorities made headlines last month when they said as many as 500 sets of radioactive buttons had been installed in elevators around the country. It wasn’t an isolated case.

Improper disposal of industrial equipment and medical scanners containing radioactive materials is letting nuclear waste trickle into scrap smelters, contaminating consumer goods, threatening the $140 billion trade in recycled metal and spurring the United Nations to call for increased screening.

Last year, U.S. Customs rejected 64 shipments of radioactive goods at the nation’s ports, including purses, cutlery, sinks and hand tools, according to data released by the Department of Homeland Security in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. India was the largest source, followed by China.

“The world is waking up very late to this,” said Paul de Bruin, radiation safety chief for Jewometaal Stainless Processing BV in Rotterdam, the world’s biggest stainless-steel scrap yard. “There will be more of this because a lot of the scrap coming to us right now is from the 1970s and 1980s, when there were a lot of uncontrolled radioactive sources distributed to industry.”

On Oct. 21, the French nuclear regulator said elevator buttons assembled by Mafelec, a Chimilin, France-based company, contained radioactive metal shipped from India. Employees who handled the buttons received three times the safe dose of radiation for non-nuclear workers, according to the agency.

Operations at the factory are now back to normal and the company has cut ties with the “source” of the radiation, Mafelec said in a statement. “In the worst-case scenario the exposure would have been under that of a medical scan,” Chief Executive Officer Gilles Heinrich said.

1 Million Missing Sources

Many atomic devices weren’t licensed when they were first widely used by industry in the 1970s. While most countries have since tightened regulations, it is still difficult to track first-generation equipment that is now coming to the end of its useful life.

Abandoned medical scanners, food processing devices and mining equipment containing radioactive metals such as cesium-137 and cobalt-60 are often picked up by scrap collectors and sold to recyclers, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear arm. De Bruin said he sometimes finds such items hidden inside beer kegs and lead pipes to prevent detection.

There may be more than 1 million missing radioactive sources worldwide, the Vienna-based IAEA estimates.

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Belarus says to recognize Abkhazia, S. Ossetia by weekend

MOSCOW, August 28 (RIA Novosti) – The Belarusian ambassador to Moscow said Thursday that Belarus would in the next day or two recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“We are allies and this says it all,” Vasily Dolgolev said of Minsk’s relations with Moscow. He added that the relevant announcement would be made by President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday or Friday.

Russia recognized the two separatist Georgian republics’ sovereignty Tuesday, but despite President Dmitry Medvedev’s call for other countries to follow suit, none has.

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U.S. Arms Cache Found in Kyrgyzstan

The U.S. embassy in Kyrgyzstan has found itself embroiled in scandal after the country’s interior ministry announced that a hoard of U.S.-made weapons has been found in a house in Bishkek rented by U.S. citizens. The embassy hurriedly stated that the weapons were intended for antiterrorism exercises, but Kyrgyz enforcement agencies have not confirmed that. The news is the talk of Kyrgyzstan. The prosecutor general has begun an investigation.

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China welcomes Iran’s wish to become full member of Shanghai group

BEIJING, March 25 (AP) – (Kyodo)-China welcomes Iran’s wish to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which groups China, Russia and Central Asian nations, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.But Tehran’s wish to be upgraded from observer status still requires discussion by the group, Qin Gang said at a regular press conference.

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