"Accidental exposure to radioactive sources causes death, injury, and severe economic consequences for the Asia Pacific region," warned Ray Turner, an expert on radioactive source safety in his briefing to the APEC Counter Terrorism Task Force (CTTF) this week.
The briefing covered areas including the range of potential radioactive sources, such as radioisotopes Cesium-137 and Cobalt 60 that are found in medical, industrial and military equipment.
Mr Turner said that over 100,000 radioactive sources are in shipment everyday around the world and this was cause for vigilance by handlers.
"Increased trade in the Asia Pacific region also increases the potential for public health, economic and security consequences of improper handling and trade in these sources. These are sources that can also be used maliciously to create radioactive 'dirty' bombs."
Mr Turner said more than 84 reported accidental meltings of radioactive materials in steel mills have occurred worldwide to date. These include meltings in the United States, Russia, China and Thailand, with the average clean up costing US$12-14 million. Mr Turner said that hundreds more accidents have likely occurred.
In his briefing Mr Turner recommended that all relevant APEC Member Economies, that had not already done so, adopt the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources and the IAEA Guidance for the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources. Mr Turner also urged the need for better detection systems and adoption of a harmonized approach to dealing with detected radioactive sources found in recycled metals during international transport. This he said should be in a method that will not impede trade and commerce.
Mr Turner briefed the CTTF meeting that was being held as one of the SOM II related meetings currently underway in Korea. The CTTF is currently considering an initiative on improving the safe handling of and trade in radioactive sources. A copy of his presentation is available here.
Ray Turner is the Quality Manager of Rivers Metal Recycling, a wholly-owned venture of The David J. Joseph Company, the United States' largest scrap metal company. He has served as a sole-source contractor to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Chairman to the United National Economic Commission for Europe's Committee of Experts on International Protocols for Radioactive Materials found in Recycled Scrap Metal Shipments. He has personally made over 4,800 detections of radioactive sources in his career.