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The Bizarre Market for Old Battleship Steel

The Bizarre Market for Old Battleship Steel

By Gilles Messier

Even shipwrecks have been salvaged for their low-background steel, most notably the remains of the WWI German High Seas Fleet scuttled at Scapa Flow in 1919. In order to obtain sufficiently low-background lead, the manufacturers proceeded to dismantle 400-year-old medieval stained glass windows and swap out the old lead for new. Experiments at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico have used lead pipes pulled up from Boston’s old plumbing system while Duke University and the University of Chicago has used lead ballast from the 300-year old Spanish Galleon San Ignacio. Which brings us back to the question: was HMS Exeter salvaged for low-background steel? More than likely the answer is no, as the demand for low-background steel has actually all but dried up in recent years.