Spanish radioactive scrap controls agreed

Government claims "world lead" in measures to prevent radioactive pollution

Representatives of the Spanish iron and steel and metal recycling industries, the industry ministry and government regulatory bodies yesterday signed a protocol establishing measures to detect and control radioactive material in scrap metal. The deal follows an accident in 1998 in which a Spanish foundry smelted radioactive material, spreading a plume of pollution across Europe (ENDS Daily 16 June 1998).

Companies adopting the agreement have undertaken to instal double detection systems to prevent radioactive scrap from going into their blast furnaces. They have also pledged to ensure that all imported scrap arriving at their plants carries a certificate of inspection. Imported scrap found to contain radioactive elements will be returned to the country of origin, while radioactive material of Spanish origin is to become the responsibility of the national radioactive waste authority Enresa.

According to Javier Penacho of the Iron and Steel Industries Union (Unesid), one of the two industry bodies party to the protocol, the installation and regular replacement of factory-gate detection equipment will cost member companies euros 3.4m (SPta560m) every 5 years. He told ENDS Daily: "The agreement is significant because Spain imports 50% of its scrap metal...a higher percentage than any other European country except Italy."

Both industry and government in Spain have been under pressure to adopt stricter controls since the May 1998 accident when an item containing radioactive caesium 137 was inadvertantly smelted with a shipment of scrap, apparently of US origin. Radioactive particles from the plant were detected by sensors in Italy, Switzerland and France before the Spanish nuclear safety authorities became aware of the incident.

Addressing the signing ceremony, junior industry minister José Manuel Serra claimed the agreement "put Spain among world leaders in this matter". He also repeated a request made by his ministry to the European Commission in September 1998 to introduce standard EU-wide measures to detect and control radioactive material in scrap metal.

Follow Up:
Spanish industry ministry, tel: +34 91 349 4000; Unesid, tel: + 34 91 456 4900.

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