Citing an internal memo from the federal environment ministry, the magazine reported that some five tonnes of high-grade steel shavings exceeded the legally allowed contamination limits so greatly that they had to be handed over to the Association of Nuclear Service (GNS) which is responsible for the disposal of waste from nuclear power plants.
The magazine quoted unnamed experts from the environment ministry saying the affair had a “huge dimension.”
A spokeswoman from the German environment ministry on Saturday confirmed the report but played down the severity of the incidents.
“You can’t really speak of a dramatic situation. But we’re taking the problem very seriously also because it has significant economic ramifications for the affected companies.”
The ministry said the material posed no environmental or health threat and added that no consumer products in Germany were affected. “Most of the steel deliveries contain contamination levels below the legally allowed limits,” it said in a statement on Sunday.
Representatives from the companies that imported the contaminated metal from India are to meet with ministry officials in the coming week.
According to the newsweekly, the material bearing traces of Cobalt-60 came from three Indian foundries and ended up in 12 of Germany’s 16 federal states. The magazine said authorities were aware of contamination in high-grade steel wires, machinery, scrap metal sheets, valves and castings.
The report said the first contaminated delivery was discovered in 2008 in a container full of high-grade steel bars at the Hamburg port.
Radioactive products from India were also discovered last year in France, Netherlands and Sweden.