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Light Up Your Life

Now here is something new to think about in the year 2000. Radioactive household goods. Kind of gives you the shivers, doesn’t it? How do you feel about eating with forks and knives made from recycled metal once used in a nuclear power plant? Or having braces on your kid’s teeth fashioned from steel that was once radioactive?
What? Another millennium scare tactic? Sorry, this is really going to happen. In fact, the process has already begun. BNFL Inc., a nuclear technology firm, has been given the go-ahead by the Department of Energy to recycle and sell contaminated metals from the Oak Ridge, Tennessee nuclear facility. I wonder why Tennessee-born Vice President Al Gore hasn’t brought this to our intention? (I sure didn’t find this skeleton in his closet.) It can’t be he doesn’t know that 100,000 tons of radioactive metal - of which nearly 2 million pounds have already been recycled - is to be brokered to steel mills across the country, or that an estimated 1.5 million tons of scrap metal in commercial and government nuclear facilities across the nation could ultimately be recycled.
As early as the fall of 2000, such metals could be making their way into your home and office. Since nobody currently keeps track of where the metal from Oak Ridge goes, or what kind of products it is turned into, someday soon, “slightly” radioactive steel could show up in flatware, pots and pans, watches or eyeglasses. You may discover it was used to manufacture the zipper on your pants and belt buckles or in that much-needed hip replacement joint. Think about taking Junior for a walk in “hot” a stroller. Contemplate creating that gourmet meal on nuclear tainted appliances. Sleep tight on a mattress that rests on a frame with traces of toxic waste. Yep. Could be there...or in anything made from steel. And to add fuel to the “radioactive” fire, a Lockheed Martin company plans to set up a plant to test ways of converting radioactive waste into glass. Boy, is this going to throw all those Bridal Registries into a tizzy!
But, hey, the Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory developed the laser technology to decontaminate radioactive scrap, so it must be safe, right? It claims the process cleans surface contamination sufficiently to allow reuse and insists that any radiation left after decontamination is negligible. Negligible? How much does it take to poison someone? If every source of material that we own has radiation in it, at what point does that dose become deadly? Nobody knows for sure if recycling is safe...not even the Department of Energy. My vote is with the environmentalists and scientists who say even a very small quantity of radioactivity could cause significant damage.
Oh, one more thing. There is controversy brewing over nickel, which is not just contaminated on its surface, but throughout. Just to make you feel better, though - they say nickel has not been released to the market. But that is no assurance, particularly when there are no existing federal regulations governing the recycling of any radioactive scrap that has been “cleaned.” Not even by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is still considering whether it’s possible to set a national standard on radiation levels in metals recycled from commercial nuclear facilities. Nor is there a national standard for metal that is contaminated inside. So, since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has no standard, and the EPA has just begun writing a Preliminary Technical Support Document and Cost-Benefit Analysis, the federal government has turned over the job of regulation to the state of Tennessee. That’s reassuring. Whatever they come up with (if anything) - considering the DOE has been making deals out of public view for some time now, and that it has been seeking to deregulate radioactive waste throughout the 1980’s - don’t expect to hear anything to make you feel comfortable from anyone anytime soon.
This is payback time, America. I guess we had it coming. We demanded more energy and less pollution. We wanted to win wars. And nuclear power came to the rescue. Not once in all these many years did we consider what we were going to do with the waste except bury it and hope it was safe. Now the Department of Energy is doing what it can to offset the $250 billion price tag of a cleaning up the nation’s massive nuclear weapons complex. We wanted to light up our lives. Well, done. Now just about everything we touch will have a glow to it.


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