50 Tons Of Depleted
Uranium Lying Around
Britain On Scrap Heaps
By Simon Bowers and Paul Brown,3604,356765,00.html
Fifty tonnes of depleted uranium is lying unmonitored in scrap heaps across Britain, posing a growing risk of environmental contamination and to workers, according to US government documents.
The uranium was used as components in aircraft and hospital radiotherapy units and increasingly is left unregulated as the equipment is decommissioned.
A US company has told British and American authorities that the uranium components have been accumulating in Britain "in a multitude of dispersed locations, where they pose a growing risk of loss of control, personnel exposure and contamination of the environment".
The information was released under the US freedom of information laws but has been declared confidential by the environment agency and by the Department of Trade and Industry in Britain.
The US firm, Philotechnics Ltd, has applied to salvage the uranium and recycle it where possible. It would not specify the use to which the recycled material would be put, but the Guardian has learnt that the company intends to pass it to another firm, which has produced equipment for the US department of defence. The unusable uranium would be buried at a licensed site in Texas.
The most well-known military use of recycled depleted uranium is in tank-piercing ammunition.
This is the first proposed shipment of the material out of Britain. There is no recycling or disposal route available in the UK, and airlines and hospitals are said to be increasingly concerned as the extent of the scrap emerges. Philotechnics said the scrap would mainly come from older British aircraft that use depleted uranium as counterweights to aid flight.
The company said that while the aircraft were in service the depleted uranium in use was primed, plated and painted to prevent corrosion, but Donald Barbour, Philotechnics' aviation programmes manager, warned that after decommissioning it was "highly probable" the counterweights would release uranium oxides. These are toxic, and residual radioactivity causes cancer.
British Airways said it had 11 Boeing 747s in service carrying these counterweights, but a spokesman said it had sold on all its decommissioned aircraft that carried them.
Miles Warren, director of Active Collection Bureau, in Sittingbourne, Kent - where the first 20-tonne shipment will be gathered within weeks if the application is approved - said there would be many sources of scrapped uranium components.
"A typical scenario would be where a company has gone bust and the auctioneers clear it out and find an old source container on a pallet and shove it to the back of their garage," he said. "Some hospitals didn't known they had depleted uranium in their radiotherapy heads. The equipment is often made so long ago that a lot of it has long been obsolete."
Under Philotechnics' proposals the usable material would be transferred to the recycling specialists Manufacturing Sciences Corporation "for inclusion in its production inventory".
Since 1985 MSC, bought by British Nuclear Fuels in 1997, has recycled 2,700 tonnes of depleted uranium into more than 70,000 products, including aircraft and machinery counterweights, flywheels, radiation shielding for x-ray machines and spent fuel casks.

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