World leaders are meeting in Seoul this week to discuss nuclear security concerns, including the growing threat of radioactive material in the global scrap metal supply chain.
According to a recent article at Bloomberg Businessweek, industries around the world are confronting the impact of loose nuclear (i.e., radioactive) material in an international scrap-metal market worth at least $140 billion. From the article:
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 . . . Abandoned medical scanners, food-processing devices and mining equipment containing radioactive metals such as cesium-137 and cobalt-60 are picked up by scrap collectors, sold to recyclers and melted down by foundries, the IAEA (United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency) says.
The problem made headlines earlier this year when retailer Bed Bath & Beyond had to recall a metal tissue holder from its shelves after the item was found to be slightly radioactive. A Bed Bath & Beyond truck loaded with the tissue holders reportedly set off a surveillance monitor in California.
"We have been notified by regulatory agencies that a product we have carried since July, 2011, in approximately 200 of our 1000 stores in the US and Canada, as well as on our website, the Dual Ridge Metal boutique tissue holder . . . contains a material which emits low levels of radiation," Bed Bath & Beyond said in a statement at its website. "According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), although any unnecessary radiation exposure is not desirable, there is no threat to anyone's health from these tissue holders. The NRC has also informed us that the material is believed to be in the tissue holder itself and cannot be inhaled, nor can it contaminate other objects (such as tissues). Out of an abundance of caution, we have pulled the product off of our sales floor and removed it from our website."
It appears that more and more manufacturers and retailers (and even consumers) are going to have to start exercising a similar "abundance of caution."
As a technical director for the Bureau of International Recycling told Bloomberg Businessweek, most people aren't aware that they're now "living in a radioactive world."