RADIOACTIVE REPLACEMENT: Nuclear Weapons Waste In Your Hip Replacement?


Even the deregulation-happy Wall Street Journal sounded shocked: “The Department of Energy is proposing to allow the sale of tons of scrap metal from government nuclear sites — an attempt to reduce waste that critics say could lead to radiation-tainted belt buckles, surgical implants and other consumer products.”

Having failed in the ’80s and ’90s to free the nuclear bomb factories and national laboratories of millions of tons of their radioactively contaminated scrap and nickel, the DOE is trying again. Its latest proposal is moving ahead without even an Environmental Impact Statement. Those messy EISs involve public hearings, so you can imagine the DOE’s reluctance to face the public over adding yet more radiation to the doses we’re already accumulating. It would be a pretty hard sell, what with dental X-rays, medical X-rays, mammograms, CAT scans, PET scans, radio-isotope “seeds” and cocktails, food irradiation, everyday releases of radioactive gases and water from 104 nuclear power reactors, major releases like Fukushima, radon from rocks, whole-body X-rays at airports (that you can refuse) and cosmic rays during flights.

Not long after Chernobyl spread radiation around the world in 1986, the National Council on Radiation Protection doubled its estimate of our annual radiation dose, from 170 millirems to 360. A few years ago it raised the estimate again, to 620 millirems per year. The agencies that both create radioactive waste and estimate the radiation doses it gives to us, say the latest increase is due mostly to rapid growth in the use of medical X-rays and radioisotopes in medicine. Should the DOE be allowed to haphazardly add still more?

Still, the DOE wants to deregulate and actually sell 14,000 tons of radioactive scrap metal (both volumetrically and topically contaminated) from the nuclear war system — uranium enrichment, plutonium extraction, etc. — and “recycle” the waste to the commercial clean scrap metal industry. From there, according to the watchdog group Nuclear Information and Resource Service, the radioactive stuff “could be turned into anything from your next pants zipper to baby toys.”