Posted on 17/02/2012 in category Environment

IAEA publishes Radiation Safety Guide for metal recyclers

BIR wishes to inform its members that this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has published its Safety Standard "Control of Orphan Sources and Other Radioactive Material in the Metal Recycling and Production Industries".

This Safety Standard sets out certain responsibilities of operators in the metal recycling and production industries, besides assigning responsibilities to governments and their regulatory bodies.

The Bureau of International Recycling has for some time recognized the importance of addressing this issue and has been providing radioactivity advice on posters in ten languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Russian, Spanish) that fulfil certain responsibilities put by the Safety Guide on metal recyclers.

The Safety Guide recommends to apply a graded approach on the basis of the size of the individual metal recycling and production facility and on the radioactive material that it might reasonably be expected to encounter. In practice, this means that small and medium sized facilities should have some awareness of the problem and be able to visually recognize suspect material and know who to contact in the event of a discovery. On the other hand, large facilities should be equipped with radiation detectors and should have sufficient radiation protection expertise available to undertake an initial response and to isolate suspect material.

Helpfully, the Safety Guide explains how, irrespective of the regulations within any state, radioactive material may become mixed with scrap metal destined for recycling. Radioactive sources are used widely in countries throughout the world in a variety of medical, industrial, research and military applications, and national laws may not have been in force, with the consequence that radioactive sources may be lost from regulatory control and may enter the general environment.

This explanation supports the contention of scrap metal collectors, sorters and processors and the consuming metal works that they expressly do not want radioactive contamination entering their facilities. So when they find and isolate radioactive materials, they not only protect their workers and their facilities but they are providing a service to society by protecting the public and the environment.

For international shipments of scrap metal, the Safety Guide requires that metal recyclers should provide a statement indicating whether the scrap metal has been subjected to radiation monitoring and the results of this monitoring; and operators of large facilities should conduct appropriate radiation monitoring to determine whether the scrap metal being processed and any resulting products (ingots, metal bars, etc.) and wastes are safe.

Finally the Safety Guide resolves a contentious issue between sellers and buyers of scrap metal by explaining that “A statement from a supplier giving the results of radiation monitoring that has been conducted does not provide an absolute guarantee that the scrap metal does not contain radioactive material, in view of the difficulties of using monitoring equipment to detect and measure radioactivity in scrap metal. Therefore, monitoring of scrap metal entering a facility will still be necessary.”

IAEA Safety Guide downloadable at:

BIR Posters can be downloaded free of charge at: