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Control of orphan sources and other radioactive material in scrap metal

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Metal recycling has become an important industrial activity worldwide; it is seen as being socially and environmentally beneficial because it conserves natural ore resources and saves energy. However, there have been several accidents over the past decades involving orphan radioactive sources or other radioactive material that were inadvertently collected as scrap metal that was destined for recycling. The consequences of these accidents have been serious with regard to the protection of people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation as well as from an economic point of view. The melting of an orphan source with scrap metal or its rupturing when mixed with scrap metal has also resulted in contaminated recycled metal and wastes. If this happens, expensive cleanup operations may be necessary. If the contaminated material is not detected at the metal recycling and production facility, radionuclides may become incorporated into various finished products, which may lead to the exposure of users of these products.

Safety Guide No. SSG-17, Control of Orphan Sources and Other Radioactive Material in the Metal Recycling and Production Industries


Safety Guide No. SSG-17, Control of Orphan Sources and Other Radioactive Material in the Metal Recycling and Production Industries, provides recommendations on ensuring the safety of workers in the metal recycling industry and members of the public in relation to the control of radioactive material in scrap metal and metal products. Major sections in the document address the responsibilities of the government, the regulatory body, and the industry; monitoring for radioactive material; response to the discovery of radioactive material; and management of recovered radioactive material.

International Conference on Control and Management of Radioactive Material Inadvertently Incorporated into Scrap Metal in Tarragona, Spain


In response to growing international concern with problems such as those described above, the International Conference on Control and Management of Radioactive Material Inadvertently Incorporated into Scrap Metal was convened in Tarragona, Spain in February 2009. The aim of this conference was to share experiences and, if possible, to contribute toward the resolution of the problems caused by the inadvertent presence of radioactive material in scrap metal.

Development of a non-binding Code of Conduct concerning the transboundary movement of radioactive material inadvertently incorporated into scrap metal

Scrap metal is widely traded internationally and it may originate in one country and be transported large distances before being processed in another. The scale of the monitoring for radioactive material in scrap metal varies widely among States. Furthermore, acceptance criteria for radioactivity levels that are present in scrap metal vary among States.

The discovery of radioactive material at border monitoring locations and at scrap metal facilities has led to the rejection of these shipments and in some cases the return of these shipments to the exporting State. In many cases, procedures do not exist to address the immediate safety aspects related to the initial discovery of radioactive material. Also, subsequent transport of the shipment is often not made in accordance with the IAEA’s Transport Regulations. When shipments of scrap metal containing radioactive material are rejected and transported without the proper application of radiation safety provisions, an opportunity to bring radioactive material back under regulatory control has been lost. Instead, this action amounts to the ‘re-orphaning’ of orphan sources or unsealed radioactive material that have been discovered.

After consideration of these issues, the participants at the International Conference on Control and Management of Radioactive Material Inadvertently Incorporated into Scrap Metal in Tarragona, Spain unanimously recognized “the potential benefit that would result from establishing some form of binding international agreement between governments to unify the approach to trans-border issues concerning scrap metal containing radioactive material.”

Open-ended meetings and related reports

In response, at the behest of the IAEA General Conference, the Secretariat began work on the development of a non-binding Code of Conduct concerning the transboundary movement of scrap metal that may inadvertently contain radioactive material. The text was developed during three open-ended Technical Meetings held in Vienna on:

At the direction of the IAEA General Conference [GC(57)/RES/9], the draft text developed through the three open-ended technical meetings was published in February 2014: Results of the Meetings Conducted to Develop a Draft Code of Conduct

Regional Workshops

Two regional workshops were held on the assessment of problems associated with radioactive material that has been inadvertently incorporated into scrap metal and the development of solutions. Meeting reports are provided:

  • Latin American Expert Meeting on the Monitoring of Scrap Metal and Recovery of Radioactive Sources - Veracruz, Mexico, 11 to 15 February 2013. Meeting report: English; Spanish
  • Regional Workshop on Transboundary Movement of Scrap metal and Other Commodities that Inadvertently Contain Radioactive Material - Sliema, Malta; 10 to 14 June 2013. Meeting report

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| Last update: Tuesday, December 09, 2014.