December 2004

India Restricts Scrap Metal Imports - Explosives Found in Shipments of Scrap

Nagpur, India— Workers in a scrap metal yard in this central Indian city 680 miles south of Delhi were shocked recently to find live munitions in a shipment of scrap metal believed to have originated in Iran. About 13 bombshells were found, causing widespread concern at the Container Corporation of India’s cargo depot early last month.

Closer inspection of the shells found eight were empty, but five were thought to contain explosives. The consignment of scrap was transported inland from the port city of Mumbai where it had been received sometime in late September.

This find came in the wake of a deadly explosion caused by contaminated scrap at the Bushan Steel plant near Delhi that killed 10 people in October. Live military munitions in shipments of scrap were to blame for the deaths.

Since the explosion, roughly 2,000 military items, including live rockets and missiles, have been found in scrap metal shipments throughout India. The overriding question, of course, is how did this material get into the country?

Scrap metal prices are typically lower in the Middle East, ranging some $30 - $40 per ton less than from sources in Europe. As a consequence, Indian scrap buyers have been sourcing material from Middle Eastern sellers for some time. But lately, some of the Middle Eastern scrap yards have

been taking in unexploded shells and defusing them on site. It is believed that live shells have inadvertently been included in many of the scrap shipments to Indian buyers.

While the recent discoveries have put the industry on notice, the government has clamped down on imports as well. As a result, imports of non-shredded scrap will only be allowed into the country with pre-shipment certificates of inspection. Furthermore, the documents can only be issued by one of 23 government approved scrap inspection agencies.

Whether or not these measures will curb the flow of explosive materials remains to be seen. Many believe the restrictions will be difficult to enforce, with 100% inspection of bulk shipments the only means to ensure compliance. Even Indian customs is unwilling to accept full responsibility should something slip through the inspection procedure.

Rather than impose such daunting requirements, some support a random inspection of scrap shipments. Representatives of the Bureau of International Recycling have suggested that since the incident appears to have been triggered by shipments from Iran, it is a supplier issue, and the responsibility for inspecting exported scrap should be shifted there.

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