Radiation

Radiation is a natural part of everyday life and a form of energy with which we constantly come into contact.  The Health Physics Society explains that “Radiation is energy that comes from a source and travels through space and may be able to penetrate various materials.” The human body is slightly radioactive, and we receive radiation exposure from the earth, the sun’s rays, and even bananas and potatoes.  Limiting the amount of time one comes into contact with radioactive material, keeping a distance from radioactive material, and placing a shield of concrete or lead between the material and oneself are established means of limiting exposure.

In Canada and the United States, the radiation exposure of workers in mines and mills is constantly monitored. U.S. regulations require each worker to wear personal dosimetry providing a reading of the worker’s dose.  Technological advances in personal dosimitry allow for real-time digital dose readings, whereas older technology only enabled monthly dose readings.  In addition, mines and mills are equipped with radiation detectors that allow site personnel to continuously monitor real-time radiation levels at various locations on site.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) monitor radiation exposure to members of the public at uranium processing operations.  Virginia runs a radiological protection program through the Virginia Department of Health. The EPA maximum allowable limit for radiation from all sources – drinking water, air, food, etc. – surrounding a uranium mining and milling operation is 25 millirem, just a fraction of the 320 millirem the average person in the U.S. receives as background radiation from the sun, the earth, and food annually. The following are doses from common radiation exposures: airplane travel–0.5 millirem per hour, hip x-rays–80 millirem, CT scans–200 – 1,000 millirem.

Although some opponents of uranium mining claim that radiation from uranium mining operations puts the public at risk for increased rates of cancer, scientific studies have confirmed that it has not resulted in higher rates of cancer for members of the general public living in the vicinity of mines. Dr. John D. Boice, Jr., a professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine and Science Director for the International Epidemiological Institute, has conducted extensive public health studies of populations surrounding uranium mining and milling operations in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. In four separate studies using data spanning 50 years, Dr. Boice examined the public health records of thousands of residents living in close proximity to uranium mining and milling operations. In all four studies, Dr. Boice found no difference in rates of cancer and cancer mortality in those communities compared to communities in other parts of the states.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the federal agency regulating all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle in Canada, maintains a centralized database of Canadian uranium workers’ exposures here.  For several years, the average exposures have not approached the regulatory limits.  You may view the reports online here.