This is one of the bugbears, the banes of the scrap metal industry.
The French nuclear safety agency said the buttons contained traces of radioactive Cobalt 60. Four Indian firms produced the components, an Indian official said, but it was still unclear where the contaminated scrap originated – although metal had been traced to a foundry in the western state of Maharashtra.
Malafec brought the button from two Indian companies. They in turn purchased the raw materials from another company SKM Steels – which obtained it from a foundry near Khopoli on the way to Pune from Mumbai called Vipras. Vipras is believed to melted the scrap to get steel.
"We are tracking back the whole chain," Satya Pal Agarwal, head of the radiological safety division of India\’s Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, told AFP.
Indian foundries are not required to install radiation detectors to check scrap, but the government has a programme to put radiation monitors at ports to check cargo.
Because the metals industry recycles more than any other industry does, there\’s always a fear that something nasty will get into the process. If it does, then it spreads throughout the whole system, as here. Every scrap furnace in the western countries does indeed check incoming material for radiation.
For example, it\’s not just those lift buttons that are now radioactive. So is the entire furnace that was used to smelt the steel. That has now all become radioactive waste that must be safely disposed of. A nightmare for the firm that did it and the reason that all the smelters have those geiger counters (although obviously, not in India).
One point to note though. This is nothing to do with nuclear power. Co-60 is used in both the irradiation of food and in certain cancer treatments. You don\’t extract it from power reactors, you deliberately make it in isotope reactors.
And it\’s also very powerful stuff: I feel very sorry for the poor sod that put it into the furnace, he won\’t be feeling very well at all.
Points for the first spotting of some greenie getting this wrong.