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Casting a nuclear shadow: the potential cost of radiation-contaminated scrap is creating increased interest in strengthening scrap yard detection systems.

While radiation detection instruments have long played a role in the scrap metal recycling industry, over the past year, there has been greater attention given to the material coming into a scrap yard, and, ultimately, to a scrap metal consumer.

From the very visible issue of homeland security concerns over dirty bombs to the much-publicized cases where radioactive scrap from former CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States--the former Soviet Union) countries has been shipped to scrap processors in Europe and Asia, the interest in installing equipment to detect radioactive scrap has grown.

Additionally, more prosperous scrap markets have given recyclers the renewed ability to make capital investments such as upgrading detection systems.

SIGN OF THE TIMES. A factor working to boost interest in radiation detection equipment by scrap metal recyclers has been the turnaround in markets. John Bublitz, a spokesman for Exploranium, a Mississauga, Ontario, Canada-based manufacturer of radiation detection equipment, notes, "There has been a healthy respect for the product. The renewed interest by scrap yards toward installing more of this equipment follows several tough years when funds dried up."

As the incidents of radioactivity found at industrial sites have accumulated, so has the need to install equipment to ensure that the material is screened to prevent the material from contaminating equipment and other materials.

The demands for detection equipment from the scrap metal industry, while steady in the U.S., has been much more pronounced in Europe. According to Bublitz, just about every scrap metal company in Western Europe has some type of radiation detection equipment. A key mason for such an abundance of this has been the cases where radioactive contaminated scrap metal has worked its way from former CIS countries such as the Ukraine into scrap loads shipped to Western Europe.

While there is greater interest at U.S. scrap yards, he adds that the European market is more attuned to the radioactive scrap issue.

Bill Huckabee, sales manager to the scrap market for Ludlum Measurements, a Sweetwater, Tex., manufacturer of radiation detection equipment, says that there is still increased interest in radiation detection equipment, whether hand-held or fixed systems.

While "Mom & Pop" operations are still reluctant to allocate the money to purchase the equipment, more and more facilities are looking to purchase radiation systems for their operations. One thing that a scrap dealer must ask, Huckabee says, is, "Do you ever get rejections due to radioactive material?"

While mill consumers have long had multiple systems in place, there is a definite trend toward moving these systems into scrap yards, with more processors installing some type of radiation detection equipment in their yards to ensure that gamma radiation is not prevalent in the loads they are bringing in.

Some forms of radiation are naturally occurring (NORM) and have a greater propensity to appear in scrap from certain industries, such as the oil industry. Other industries where radioactive material may appear include the medical industry and the military and its suppliers.

Steve Sterenka, with RaddComm Systems, an Ontario-based provider of radiation detection equipment, has noted in an earlier interview that scrap from fire military has a lot of radium 226, which was used in the past. Dials used in the 1960's and 70's also have some potential for radiation. However, he adds, the worst in terms of common detection are lead sealed sources--such as radiography cameras.


The scrap industry, like many other industries, requires speed and efficiency. A concern on the part of some scrap dealers is having to put additional equipment in place that would slow down their processing efficiency.

If radiation detection equipment is put in at the wrong place, bottlenecks can occur, making the system an inefficient tool. But according to Huckabee, it is essential that the equipment is placed at a location where the systems are most effective. A key place to locate a fixed system is at the front gate, where tracks first enter a facility. In many cases, this does not cause too much of a slowdown. Trucks, which are already slowing down or stopping for a scale, could pass through the operations without much of a change in speed.

Many scrap dealers have additional detection devices scattered throughout their yards. A problem with keeping a detector only at the front entrance is that some loads may be very dense or sealed in a container, preventing initial detection.

By including additional scanners on the conveyor line or within material handling equipment such as a grapple, this provides a "second chance," further reducing the chance that a piece of the equipment will contaminate a much larger load of scrap metal.

The school of thought is that the more times the material can be checked, the higher the probability of catching any radioactive material. Bringing the material closer to the detection system, reducing the density of the material being scanned, and having the metal checked multiple times is a way to greatly improve the likelihood of the load being clean.

Annaco Inc., a scrap metal recycler in Akron, Ohio, has a fixed system at the entrance, as well as several hand-held devices. Rick Robertson, Annaco's plant engineer, says all material that is trucked in must run through the fixed detection equipment, sometimes with additional scrutiny from the portable models.

Another line of defense, at least for imported scrap, may be at port Facilities. With the concern over the smuggling of radioactive material into the country, several equipment companies report seeing strong interest by port facilities throughout the U.S.


A salvage dealer who purchased slightly more than 2,700 pounds of mixed metal thought he was able to get a good deal. What has resulted is a long and arduous battle that still isn't over.

Allen Hogan, who operated a salvage yard near Mansfield, Ohio, purchased some excess metal from one of the offices of the Department of Demilitarization. He paid $75 for a mixed supply of obsolete scrap, both baled and loose. The load included aluminum, as well as magnesium. What he found out later is that part of the metal load consisted of parts from a Minuteman missile.

Only after shipping some of the scrap to a Luntz Corp. (now PSC Services) facility, where it was rejected after passing through detection equipment, did Hogan find out that the scrap included some radioactive material.

From there, more than five years ago, Hogan has been battling the U.S. government over the damage the radioactive scrap has cost him. According to Hogan, the federal government claimed it did perform a clean up, and "the cleanup has met the government's standard of cleanup." However, Hogan, in a lawsuit filed against the U.S Government, says the continued presence of the radioactive scrap on his 27-acre property has rendered the land worthless

Hogan filed a suit in the 6th District Court of Appeals Oct. 29th. While he doesn't expect to have a court decision until well into 2004, he says that the government failed to adequately clean up the site and remove the contaminated material.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed U.S. District Judge James Graham's decision to dismiss the case in Columbus. The lower court had decided Hogan did not file within the statute of limitations.

Now, Hogan complains, his site is not only jeopardizing the chances of selling the land, but also posing a potential health hazard to his family.

PLAYING THE ODDS Read how steel mills cut their of melting contaminated

The author is the senior editor and Internet editor of Recycling Today. He can be contacted at
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Title Annotation:Radiation Detection Focus
Author:Sandoval, Dan
Publication:Recycling Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Previous Article:Safety first: keeping safety in the forefront may require a change in attitude and a repetitive message.
Next Article:A mixed blessing.

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