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A complete guide to radioactive metal recycling

  Wednesday, 16 November 2016

It’s no secret that metal recycling has a few hazards.  Things like aerosols can misbehave quite severely if not treated with the proper respect they deserve.

However, did you realise that in some cases, metal recycling can even be impacted by radioactive materials?  This is especially the case within older items, which can sometimes be found in older homes.

At ASM Metal Recycling we have radiation detector units through which all vehicles must drive to test if material on board is radioactive.  If the detector alarm sounds, we send the vehicle through a couple more times in case of a false positive.  In the office, we have a Geiger meter which can find the precise piece that has triggered the detectors.  All this ensures we do not send on radioactive material to be recycled.

Where can radioactive substances be found?

Some of the main sources for radioactive material in the metal recycling world include:

  • ‘Orphan’ sources. These sources are usually found out of regulatory control, and will typically come from redundant industrial equipment such as gauges or medical equipment.  Obviously these are fairly rare items, but are still found in some older-generation houses.

  • Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) and Low Specific Activity (LSA) scale. LSA scale radioactive decay products can accumulate on the inside of items from plants involved in certain chemical processes and can also occur in items from the oil and gas industry.  Even something as mundane as old piping can contain LSA scale.

  • Imported steel. In recent years, there have been incidents in which steel imported into the UK has contained radioactive material due to the orphan source being melted with the steel during the production process.

  • Nuclear material. Any items involved in a nuclear supply chain may also contain radioactive material.  Of course, these items are typically NOT found in the home.

What are the risks of dealing with radioactive material?

Typically, there are two main things to bear in mind with this sort of substance.

  • External radiation. This is where the materials coming off gamma rays can move through the human body.

  • Internal radiation. This is simply where any radionuclides are incorporated into the body through ingestion, inhalation and through cuts and grazes on the skin.  LSA scale or NORM dusts in particular can be breathed into the body during handling and processing of scrap.

What is the process for managing a radioactive substance?

Any processor will have their own due process and it will usually include:

  • Running the item through a monitor to confirm the presence of radioactive materials.

  • Isolating the item in the designated position.

  • Analysing the item using a hand-held gamma dose rate meter to establish if it’s safe to approach whilst cordoning off the area.

  • Getting in touch with the radiation protection adviser (RPA) to seek further advice.

Don’t worry

This is simply an informative article.  As a general rule, radioactive doses found in the home – when they do occur – are VERY small.  Those processing the materials – that’s us – are trained to handle any particular situation, though, so you can always get in touch if you’re concerned about a particular item around the home.

Get in touch

Remember, if you’ve any questions about metal recycling in general, give ASM Metal Recycling a call today on 01296 33 77 11.

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