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Radioactive element Americium found in steel scrap at Outokumpu steel plant - STUK

Steel News - Published on Wed, 17 Oct 2018

Image Source: SteelGuru
Reuters reported that Outokumpu’s Tornio facility in Finland, one of Europe’s biggest steel plants, has suffered four radiation contamination incidents since July. The country’s nuclear watchdog STUK said on Tuesday that “In the latest incident, a batch of scrap metal at the plant was found on October 12 to contain Americium, a radioactive element that can be dangerous and potentially deadly if inhaled or swallowed by employees. Workers were forced to wear oxygen masks but were not exposed to radiation. The concentration strength was about 1-2 gigabecquerels.”

STUK said in the Oct 12 incident the contaminated materials were shipped from the Netherlands and the Baltics, but were likely to have originated outside Europe. STUK director Mr Tommi Toivonen said “It seems there is a bigger portion of scrap metal around the world that contains americium. It is really difficult to find, unlike other radioactive elements.”

All four recent incidents involved americium, according to STUK. It added that the events’ recurrence qualifies as an International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) radiation incident.

Outokumpu said “Outokumpu takes this matter seriously and does its utmost to prevent radioactive material ending up in production. Radioactive material is strictly prohibited and cannot be accepted at the plant.”

Wikipedia “Americium is a synthetic chemical element with symbol Am and atomic number 95. It is a transuranic member of the actinide series, in the periodic table located under the lanthanide element europium, and thus by analogy was named after the Americas. Americium was first produced in 1944 by the group of Glenn T. Seaborg from Berkeley, California, at the Metallurgical Laboratory of the University of Chicago, a part of the Manhattan Project. Although it is the third element in the transuranic series, it was discovered fourth, after the heavier curium. The discovery was kept secret and only released to the public in November 1945. Most americium is produced by uranium or plutonium being bombarded with neutrons in nuclear reactors – one tonne of spent nuclear fuel contains about 100 grams of americium. It is widely used in commercial ionization chamber, smoke detectors, as well as in neutron sources and industrial gauges. Several unusual applications, such as nuclear batteries or fuel for space ships with nuclear propulsion, have been proposed for the isotope 242mAm, but they are as yet hindered by the scarcity and high price of this nuclear isomer.

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Posted By : Sanju Moirangthem on Wed, 17 Oct 2018
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