Radioactive Cutlery, Anyone?

So, I popped into a store the other day to buy a wedding shower gift for my daughter.

I’ve been working on a nuclear issue lately – the one involving a plan to ship 16 radioactive steam generators through the Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Seaway (all of which border both Canada & the U.S.) & all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden for "recycling." This shipment will be just the beginning, btw. There are 32 of these generators & all in all, this shipment looks to many of us like the thin edge of the wedge, as they say...

The GLU group (Great Lakes United) Web site has good info on this (including a resolution you can sign onto). Beyond Nuclear is another group & site to check out. The NIRS (Nuclear Information & Resource Service) site also has info (including a lot of great fact sheets on nuke-related issues of all kinds; this one of particular interest). (And yes! International Radioactive Waste Day - more here. Hint: it's on Wednesday, September 29th!)

In working on this issue, I’ve become aware that metal contaminated with radioactive waste (“radwaste”) has become a feature of life here on Planet Earth. Who knew?? Well, maybe lots of other activists knew, but I, for one, am new to this realization.

Is this appalling, or is this appalling?? (it seems more than a little appalling to me…)

Paul de Bruin, radiation safety chief for Jewometaal Stainless Processing in Rotterdam, the Netherlands (the world’s largest stainless steel scrap facility), has stated “The world is waking up very late to this.”(1)

The United Nations produced a report in 2006 called Recommendations on Monitoring & Response Procedures for Radioactive Scrap Metal, Report of an International Group of Experts convened by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

The report’s Introduction points out that the detection of radioactive contaminants bears very major economic & financial consequences (namely, often the closure of the facility where it’s been found & very expensive remedial/clean-up action). And then one finds this statement: “In addition, such incidents can lead to a loss of trust in the recycled metal industry and the associated products since consumers do not wish to have unnecessary radiation emanating from their purchases.” (italics mine)

Ya think?

Dark humour. Very dark…

So, off I go to look at cutlery for my daughter (for some illogical reason I am determined that my gift be cutlery). In addition to being a tad flabbergasted at the price of modern-day cutlery (I live under a rock, I like to joke, don’t shop much, & have been using the same cutlery – a pre-wedding gift from parents-in-law – for the past 35 years), I note that most of what I see on store shelves was “Made in China.”

This does not reassure me. I recall hearing that China has been exporting lead (& I don’t recall what-all other nasty substances) in consumer products. One has become, um, a tad hesitant about products from China, of late…

I ask myself, was this product I’m considering buying made by workers who are being paid slave wages? Working for a company that may not care in the slightest about its environmental (or social) impacts? I also now have to wonder: is it possible it contains radioactive materials??

Good Lord.

What is a person to do??

Well. I know what I’m going to do. I’ll be “intervening” at a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission hearing in Ottawa (hearing being held on Sept. 28 & 29th) & asking the CNSC to shelve its plan with Bruce Power (BP for short. Egad! Unfortunate acronym, hmm?) to ship these generators that will ultimately wind up being "free-released" & recycled into consumer products. (Turns out recycling is not always "good," hmmm??) The agenda for that hearing can be found here

I’ll be in good company there – lots of intelligent, bold and articulate interveners who have devoted tons of their time to this issue.

Problem? The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission seldom seems to pay much attention to what intervenors say at public hearings (which often strike me as mere “kangaroo courts” – but then, I’ve attended too darn many of them) – unless, of course, said intervenors are representatives of the nuclear industry. Now that’s a different ballgame…

So I’ve also written to Canadian (federal) Environment Minister Jim Prentice to tell him of my concerns, & have copied other Canadian political leaders, including my own MP (Member of Parliament). I’ve used a letter sent by Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

If you’re Canadian, why not do the same? (A separate blog post – posted just before this one – contains the letter & info on how to send one of your own, addresses included, & how to find out your MP’s address, also.)

If you’re not Canadian, I suggest you consider digging into this issue yourself, unless you’re keen on going to your local store one day & taking home a set of radioactive cutlery. Or toaster. Or…whatever.

(or learning that the Baltic Sea, near the Swedish company that recycles radioactive materials into metal that then hits the market & becomes consumer products, is being polluted with radioactive waste. Uck…)(2)

Heaven alone knows what these…characters…will get up to next…


‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

(1) That & the following are included in my “intervention” letter to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for the hearing coming up on Sept. 28/29, 2010, in Ottawa, ON (more details on the hearing in the remainder of the blog posting).

According to a magazine article from the Bureau of International Recycling, following a conference held in 2009 in Düsseldorf, Germany, ELG Haniel Metals Chairman/Director Michael Wright warned that “Radioactive scrap is a global problem that affects every recyclable metal.”

Furthermore, it was reported that, “Worldwide, governments lose track of 200 to 400 orphan sources each year.”

And, that governments are “not accepting their responsibility” for these orphan sources.

A 2009 newspaper report from Germany states, “The German government has become increasingly concerned over the last six months by the incidence of stainless steel products exhibiting radioactive contamination. In total, some 10 tons of material have been identified so far, spread across a wide range of material forms, from stainless steel wire wool, to bars, valves, castings and flat products.”

I myself have only recently become aware that scrap metal companies, scrap dealers and steel mills must now routinely use scanning equipment to detect contaminated scrap – but as anyone with any imagination can readily surmise, there are not sufficient funds nor staff hours for every dealer to scan every single piece of metal being transported around the world.

The International Atomic Energy Association has reported that there may be more than 1 million missing radioactive sources worldwide.

(2) Check out the Swedish anti-nuclear group Milkas, which opposes the import of radioactive waste into Sweden.