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Radioactive Metal from Nuclear Weapons Facilities May End up in Your Shopping Bag

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page and our Health Issues page.

How would you like radioactive metal from nuclear weapons facilities to be recycled for use in consumer goods like silverware, pots and pans, eye glasses, zippers, kid's braces, and even pacemakers and artificial hip joints? If the U.S. Department of Energy gets its way (after a  public comment period ends Feb. 11), that is exactly what we can expect in our future.

DOE, the steward of the sprawling-and massively contaminated-American nuclear weapons complex, wants to lift a ban on recycling imposed in 2000. That action came in response to an earlier proposal to sell radioactive metal from DOE facilities to scrap metal recyclers. Once the contaminated metal is mixed into the scrap supply, it could be turned into virtually anything made with metal.

The problem is, products contaminated with radiation give off alpha particles, beta particles, or gamma rays, depending on the radioactive element (radionuclide or radioisotope) present. Though these three kinds of radiation have different properties, all are ionizing, meaning that each is energetic enough to break chemical bonds in the cells in our bodies. That kind of damage can result in cancer and other illnesses. 


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