Wed, Mar 27, 2002 - Page 2 News List

Radioactive rod found in Kaohsiung scrap

HOT RODS The discovery of another radioactive rod in scrap metal -- the second this month -- highlights the lax handling of such materials by Taiwanese companies

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Atomic Energy Council (AEC) officials, already on edge due to the discovery of a radioactive rod found in scrap metal early this month, were told that a similar rod had been found Monday night at a steel plant in Kaohsiung.

Yesterday morning, however, AEC officials said that the rod found on Monday was not one of the five rods linked to the earlier find, as it was not the proper length.

The AEC has been searching feverishly for five lost radioactive rods linked to the one found in central Taiwan earlier in the month. The rods are used for quality control in steel and chemical plants around the country. The AEC emphasized that the rods are not from any of the nation's nuclear plants.

S.J. Su (蘇獻章), the AEC's new director of the Department of Radiation Protection, yesterday confirmed that the rods came from abroad, but declined to tell the Taipei Times which country produced them.

On Monday evening, a radiation alarm at the Tang Eng Iron Works Co Ltd Stainless Steel Plant (唐榮公司不鏽鋼廠) in Kaohsiung City was triggered by a truck carrying scrap metal.

After using radiation survey meters, plant workers confirmed that extremely high levels of radioactivity were being emitted from the 42cm-by-10cm stainless steel cylinder. The rod was emitting 490 milliSieverts per hour.

In the UK, a "safe dose" for nuclear plant workers is calculated at 50 milliSieverts per year.

Five milliSieverts per year is the regulatory limit in Taiwan, which is higher than the international average.

"What I can say is that the alarm system works. After all, it happens," a high-ranking Tang Eng manager with the surname Li told the Taipei Times yesterday.

Li said that the radioactive rod could have come from anywhere, because the company has smelted scrap metal collected from counties around the country since 1983.

Confidential Taipei Times sources, however, said that the scrap metal in question was from the Jiyang Steel Plant (吉揚鋼鐵廠) in Tainan.

The AEC's Institute of Nuclear Energy Research (INER) yesterday transferred the rod back to its laboratory in Taoyuan to carry out further tests to determine the nuclear isotope and look for a series number.

If no series number is found, AEC officials said yesterday that it would be impossible to trace.

Meanwhile, AEC officials are busy searching for the five lost rods, thought to be 28.28kg cesium-137 (Cs-137) cylinders like the one found earlier this month.

According to the AEC, the six radioactive rods were originally purchased by the Tungyi Steel Plant (東億鋼鐵廠) and were then sold to the Hsinhung Steel Plant (信鴻鋼鐵廠) before Tungyi went bankrupt.

Both plants are located in Taichung. Last year, Hsinhung shut down its production lines due to financial difficulties.

Sometime later, the rods disappeared from the Hsinhung facility were they were stored. AEC officials have vowed to find out how this was permitted to happen and prosecute the two companies under the Atomic Energy Act.

In response to the evolving problem, AEC Chairman Ouyang Min-shen (歐陽敏盛) has ordered a complete overhaul of the regulations regarding radioactive sources for both medical and industrial uses.

Last Thursday, the AEC checked more than forty scrap-smelting plants in Taichung, but the search came up empty. Nevertheless, AEC officials suspect that the five missing rods remain in the Taichung area.

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