Viridian Note 00270: Hiding the Garbage

Bruce Sterling []

Key concepts: radioactive waste, carbon emissions, recycling, consumer goods, University of Bergen, Green Global Energy company, Metal Industries Recycling Coalition, Nuclear Energy Institute

Attention Conservation Notice: It's about scrap metal and garbage, and it's rather spooky. Over 2,000 words.

Perhaps we can solve our Greenhouse mosquito plague by genetically altering them. One of the first serious proposals in what will doubtless be a very, very extensive set of biotech GMO fixes for climate change.,2763,546082,00.html

Source: Reuters, August 8, 02001

"Nuclear waste recyclers target consumer products

"NEW YORK == Orthodontists could soon be giving their patients more than they bargained for with their brand new braces: a mouthful of radioactive waste. (((Hey, nice hook!)))

     "Under a Department of Energy plan, braces aren't the only product which could contain radioactive waste. Zippers, lawn chairs, hip replacements and countless other consumer products could include trace amounts of waste taken from nuclear reactors or weapons complexes and recycled into scrap metal.

     "The Department of Energy (DOE) sees the recycling as a way to clean up waste at decommissioned nuclear plants and weapons facilities, but environmental groups call the idea ridiculous.

     "'It's hard to imagine a nuclear enterprise more tone deaf to public concerns or a more cockamamie scheme than taking radioactive waste and disposing of it in consumer products,' said Dan Hirsch, president of nuclear watchdog group Committee to Bridge the Gap. (((No it isn't. That's not hard to imagine at all. Because it's been happening since 1945, quite without human intention.)))


     "Critics say recycling radioactive waste, even at low levels, is reckless. But energy officials say that the government needs to look at all options for getting rid of the growing pile of hazardous wastes. Proponents of the plan say that by spreading small, non-lethal amounts into recycled scrap, the need for large waste dumps could be avoided. (((Wait a minute == here's a great scheme. Let's recycle all of that metal waste into big, metal- hungry SUVs. Then only rich people == a tiny fraction of the planet's population! == will suffer exposure!)))


     "A moratorium was placed on radioactive recycling last year by former Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson after environmental groups protested the possible sale of 6,000 metric tons of contaminated nickel from the energy department's Oakridge nuclear facility in Tennessee to scrap metal dealers.

     "But under the Bush administration, the program is being revisited and the energy department is considering lifting the moratorium. But before that, it is required by law to conduct a thorough study on the safety risks of recycling radioactive waste.

     "The proposal does not specify any uses for scrap metal containing the radioactive waste, but metal industry executives say the material would go into the supply of scrap metal and could be used to make anything. (((Include it in "anything," the good ol' StarLink corn gambit! Ideally, these shiny nickel radwaste consumer goods should be promoted as having tremendous cachet, in some distant market where they're short on geiger counters. The Congo, maybe. They'd be a definite bargain if their shelf price was subsidized by the disposal costs.)))

     "Even the study has proven problematic. The DOE recently dropped Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) == which it initially chose to conduct the study and prepared a report == because of its business partnership with British Nuclear Fuels Limited, the company that last year was going to contract with the government to help sell the waste from the Oakridge facility. (((There, see! Hire those SAIC guys! They're up for it!)))

     "Hirsch of the Committee to Bridge the Gap said it was an enormous potential conflict of interest. SAIC's report 'is quite dangerous in terms of arguing how much radioactivity would be acceptable for use in consumer products.'

     "The energy department has not said who was hired to complete the study, but some are arguing that the level of radiation in any recycled materials would be too low to actually pose a health risk.

     "The Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade association representing some 260 companies in the nuclear power industry, has lobbied in favor of radioactive recycling and says the public may be overly concerned.

     "'Concern is healthy,' said Felix Killar, director of material licenses for the institute. 'But people need to understand the facts. This isn't truly radioactive waste. It's no more radioactive than any other material recycled in to consumer products.'

     "Killar continues: 'There isn't a place on Earth that is totally free of radioactivity.' (((And Mr. Felix Killar (how on earth did they hire a guy with that name?) is dead right, you know. Radon is perfect natural, it's a serious radiation contaminant, and a few spare thousand metric tons of slightly soiled nickel here and there, is no big deal. There's a hitch in this scheme, though. Oversight. The biotech industry claims that it's cripplingly expensive to keep American GMO products out of Europe's food-supply. That's stuff we eat. What set of regulatory geniuses is going to be telling us how much trash radioactivity is in our steel? Steel is an ultimate commodity.)))


     "John Wittenborn, attorney for the Metal Industries Recycling Coalition (MIRC), comprised of a variety of metal industry trade groups, says their polls indicate the public doesn't buy the idea that nuclear waste can be safely recycled into everyday products. (((But wait == aluminum cans could have a little recycle-arrow logo and a radiation logo, both at the same time!)))

     "'We've spent a lot of time and effort to build the perception that products made from recycled materials are safe and good and that recycling itself is something that society should be in favor of,' said Wittenborn, whose group strongly opposes recycling of radioactive waste into scrap metal. ((("Scrap-Metal Junkmen == Your First Line of Defense In Environmental Protection.")))

     "Beyond the public image problem the industry would face in using the recycled waste, companies are concerned about the potential contamination of their mills and workers.

     "Wittenborn says it can cost from $5 million to $15 million to shut down, inspect by hand and then clean a steel mill that has registered radioactivity above a background level. (((Who scraps the scrappers?)))

     "Recently, Wittenborn attended an energy department public hearing on the issue in Crystal City, Virginia where he presented his polling data and the metal industry's case.

     "In fact, those who have attended the hearings say most of the comments have opposed lifting the moratorium on radioactive recycling.

     "'The observer might ask 'Why does the DOE continue to propose to do this if no one is willing to come forward and testify on behalf of it?'" said Dan Guttman, executive director of President Clinton's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments. (((Why does no one testify? Because they feel much safer in the dark, of course. Just having this become a public issue constitutes defeat. "Scrap steel for sale, $25 a ton == $50 a ton if you watch us make it.")))

     "'This is being cast as a question of convincing the hysterical public that a little radiation is OK.' (((Well, hysteria's no use. If a little radiation was enough to wipe us out, Chernobyl wouldn't be a wildlife park. And one more thing. Steel already has radiation in it, thanks to nuclear testing. There's already a recycling industry which is dedicated to clean steel from historical sources, before the days of fission. Every heard of that recycling industry? Look!)))


"Section G.7: Salvage of German WWII U-Boats

     "In 1995 it was announced that about 100 German WWII U-boats would be salvaged off the Scottish coast. These submarines were scuttled after the end of the war during Operation Deadlight, the disposal of the captured U-boat fleet. Because they were scuttled, there is no issue of them being war graves, as vessels sunk in combat would be. The reasons behind the salavge have been questioned, as raising a batch of U-boats doesn't seem to be a particularly economical way of getting scrap metal. In reality, the ship are not being salvaged to be cut up and melted down as ordinary scrap. These U-boats represent one of the last readily available sources of non-radioactive steel, and are being salvaged for that 'clean' steel.

     "All steel made since the detonation of the first atom bomb in 1945 has contained tiny amounts of radioactivity. This is because the atmosphere now contains trace amounts of radioactivity. The steelmaking process involves the use of large amounts of air, which transfers the radioactivity to the steel. (((So you're not merely chewing it with your dentures. You are breathing it.)))

     "Instruments and equipment used for measuring radioactivity must be free from extra background radiation, so post-1945 'new' steel cannot be used for these purposes. Instead, pre-1945 'clean' steel is used. The steel is obtained from the scrapping of pre-1945 ships, and a considerable amount has been obtained from the German ships scuttled in Scapa Flow at the end of WWI. (((It's nice clean Nazi steel!)))

     "Obviously, steel obtained from these relatively limited sources is much more valuable than normal steel. The existing sources for 'clean' steel have mostly dried up, so the salvage of the U-Boats is economically justifiable now. The submarines will not be melted down after salvage, rather, plates cut from the hulls will be used in their current form.

     "However, since the announcement of the salvage rights in 1995, everything has grown quiet, and there may be no actual salvage activity, now or in the future." (((Oh, I rather imagine the market will perk up when certain aging consumers at the top of the financial food chain get it about those dentures.

     (((The trash problem has always been the devil of the nuke industry. Nobody likes radwaste, nobody wants it, and the mere whisper of "nuclear" metric tonnage arriving in one's vicinity guarantees a NIMBY frenzy across the board. The atmosphere is the place that nobody owns and where nobody looks. Historically, for the energy business, the air is the best place for garbage. Now watch the carbon industry engaged with the same logic.)))

Source: Reuters, Sept 4, 02001

     "Norwegian turns greenhouse gas to fish fodder

     "OSLO == A Norwegian scientist may have found a way to turn climate gases thought to cause global warming into fish fodder, a daily newspaper said yesterday.

     "Dagens Naeringsliv reported that professor Olav Kvalheim at the University of Bergen had come across a method to utilise emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) to grow algae which could be fed to farm fish.

     "'Actually, it's a rather simple technology,' Kvalheim said, adding that the method could almost completely remove emissions from gas-fired power plants into the atmosphere.

     "The new technology, owned by Green Global Energy, has been tested successfully for NOx and is currently being tested on CO2.

     "Natural gas development consortiums Naturkraft and Industrikraft Midt-Norge, which plan to build gas-fired power plants in western and central Norway both said they were positive about the new technology.

     "'The Global Green Systems technology is interesting because it offers a very good resource exploitation,' said Petter Haugen of Industrikraft Midt- Norge."

     (((What's happening here? Industrial carbon recycling. Algae eat natural gas waste. Fish eat algae, and somewhere along the line, people eat those fish. Carbon isn't radwaste and doesn't go into tin cans, but the point is: these are extractive energy industries, and there isn't any place to "throw it away." We live in a biosphere, and sooner or later, garbage ends up inside of us. There's an interesting question here. How much of the biosphere, and of contemporary human beings, is actually, physically composed of industrial effluent?

     (((For the last 10,000 years, CO2 was stable at about 280 parts per million. Over the last century it began a steep rise, and is now at 360 ppm. Unless I miss my guesstimate, this should mean that when you eat a pear (say, an organic, non-GMO, pesticide-free, non- radioactive pear, straight from the health-food store), more than a fifth of the carbon in that fruit is smokestack emissions. Then there are other, non-carbon emissions which are also biologically active: the methane, the sulfur in coal and oil....

     (((How much of you came from a smokestack? Let's mull it over, Viridian-style! There's the age of the subject, and how long he or she has been exposed to our mounting CO2 rates... Even a newborn human infant must be substantially composed of recycled fossil fuel.... There might be preferential uptake rates among fossil carbon isotopes.... Okay, it takes better physics and physiology than I can supply to answer this question. But: how much of our flesh is trash? Who knows this, and who can find it out?)))

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