Tue, Mar 12, 2002 - Page 2 News List

Radioactive rod found in scrap

RADIATION RISK The cesium rod could have released a deadly cloud of radioactive gas if it had been melted in a furnace along with the scrap heap that it was found in

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Atomic Energy Council (AEC) said yesterday it was confident it would quickly discover the source of a radioactive rod that was found at a steel works last week.

"Whether the radioactive waste was disposed of arbitrarily by a local firm that uses radioactive materials or by an illegal importer, we will have an answer soon," AEC Chairman Ouyang Min-shen (歐陽敏盛) said at a press conference yesterday.

Last week, the AEC was called to a steel works to investigate the discovery of the radioactive rod in metal scraps on a truck. The 28.28kg cesium-137 (Cs-137) cylinder, 10cm wide and 35.5cm long, was immediately sent to the AEC's Institute of Nuclear Energy Research (INER).

Officials said that researchers at the INER will cut the cylinder into pieces to check for serial numbers.

AEC officials said that so far they had no idea where the highly radioactive rod came from.

The rod emits 270 micro Sieverts per hour. The recommended radiation exposure in any one year for a member of the public, as recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection, is 1 milli Sieverts.

For someone who works with radioactive materials the limit is 20mSv a year.

AEC officials yesterday refused to release the name of the steel works where the rod was found but confirmed it as one of 19 that operates melting furnaces.

AEC officials said that the Cs-137 rod, with a boiling point of 6710C, would evaporate in a furnace and seriously pollute the environment.

The AEC is responsible for regulating all nuclear materials including those for medical use. The most significant source of man-made radiation exposure to the public is from medical procedures, such as diagnostic X-rays and radiation therapy. These procedures use Cs-137 among others.

"This unexpected find should have not happened because any licensed firm using radioactive materials would know that the waste cannot be dumped without reporting to the AEC in advance and getting permits," Su Ming-feng (蘇明峰), director of AEC's Department of Radiation Protection, told the Taipei Times.

Su said that, according to the Atomic Energy Act, licensed owners of radioactive sources are obliged to handle radioactive materials safely. The act, however, does not proscribe punishments for failure to abide by it.

Anti-nuclear activists of the Green Citizens' Action Alliance yesterday urged the AEC to take responsibility not only for tracing the source of the rod but also to carry out health checks on truck drivers and workers at the steel works to see if they had been exposed to radiation.

In the early 1980s, rebar contaminated with cobalt-60 was used in the construction of more than 100 buildings in several counties in Taiwan.

In January this year, the High Court judged that the AEC should offer 49 people who had lived in the Minsheng Villas (民生別墅) in Taipei compensation totalling NT$54 million for its failure to regulate radioactive materials.

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