Radioactive scrap incident in Delhi is just the tip of the iceberg

Indian media has been abuzz for lat few days with 5-7 persons fighting for their lives due to contamination of steel scrap with radioactive substance and government efforts to locate the source of contamination.

But this incident highlights the ground realities in India and the dangers it poses to common man in terms of their chances of exposure to radioactive materials used in construction as smaller and medium construction sector in India thrives upon cheap rebars produced by secondary scrap and sponge iron based steel makers as end users fail to differentiate substandard steel due to ignorance. For them steel is steel and cheaper it is better it is

Although scrap based steel making in developed world is quite popular for making high end steel products, both flats and longs, it is based on EAF route where the chemistry is controlled appropriately. In fact the control starts from their scrap yards, which are equipped with equipments to monitor presence of any hazardous substances including radioactive isotopes.

On the other hand, the secondary steel making in India is at the opposite end with induction furnaces having hardly any control on chemistry. The problem is compounded by non existent facilities to monitor quality of steel scrap.

Radioactive isotopes are used in many applications in medical equipments as well in industrial applications. Almost all factories have some kind of measuring instruments based on radioactive isotopes. Imagine a situation when a factory remains unused for 5 years to 10 years, or may be more, and is being dismantled. As the warning signs on radioactive isotope based equipments become invisible and could become part of steel scrap easily.

The contaminated scrap, after melting normally takes shape of rebars, which are used in construction exposing common people to a great danger which by far remains undetected but takes it toll by inducing cancer among them.

It is in fact very difficult to detect such cases and only by chance they have been reported in past. In an unfortunate incident a whole building complex in Taiwan was found to have been contaminated with radioactivity due to such rebars and caused cancer to score of people living there. Some more incidents of contaminated steel products have been reported in past but unfortunately they were all discovered by chance only.

In India, the situation is even worse as there is absolutely no control on the quality of scrap being used in steel making because not only there is no awareness but any investment in this direction would make the steel maker uncompetitive. Small amounts of radioactive substance can always go un noticed and contaminate rebars used in general construction of houses and other structures exposing common man to unknown dangers of cancer.

We need to see that what measures Indian government would take in wake of the recent discovery of radioactive isotopes in steel scrap in New Delhi. As there are just about 1200 steel makers in India enforcement of a rule to install radioactivity detectors at their premises is not a tough call and can be done if the government so desires in public interest.

Download our Radioactive Statement here