Uranium Mining and Norm in North America—Some Perspectives on Occupational Radiation Exposure
All soils and rocks contain naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM). Many ores and raw materials contain relatively elevated levels of natural radionuclides, and processing such materials can further increase the concentrations of naturally occurring radionuclides. In the U.S., these materials are sometimes referred to as technologically-enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials (TENORM). Examples of NORM minerals include uranium ores, monazite (a source of rare earth minerals), and phosphate rock used to produce phosphate fertilizer. The processing of these materials has the potential to result in above-background radiation exposure to workers. Following a brief review of the sources and potential for worker exposure from NORM in these varied industries, this paper will then present an overview of uranium mining and recovery in North America, including discussion on the mining methods currently being used for both conventional (underground, open pit) and in situ leach (ISL), also referred to as In Situ Recovery (ISR), and the production of NORM materials and wastes associated with these uranium recovery methods. The radiological composition of the NORM products and wastes produced and recent data on radiological exposures received by workers in the North American uranium recovery industry are then described. The paper also identifies the responsible government agencies in the U.S. and Canada assigned the authority to regulate and control occupational exposure from these NORM materials.