Answer to Question #11474 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Environmental and Background Radiation — Rocks, Minerals, and Mines

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


I have concerns about an open-pit uranium mine that might open about 6 kilometers (km) from my parents' home. What are the dangers of being in close proximity to such an operation, both short term and long term?


Your question expresses a fairly common concern of citizens who live near large proposed or existing mining operations of many kinds, not just uranium. But because uranium is a naturally occurring, slightly radioactive material, people often have concerns about that. Given the highly regulated nature of these types of mining operations (by both federal and state regulatory agencies), as well as the modern mining techniques that are used today, any radiation-related impact to your parents as far away as 6 km would be very small. In fact, the impact would not be distinguishable from the effects of the natural radiation background all of us are exposed to every day.

As citizens of planet Earth, we are all exposed to naturally occurring radiation every day. It comes from cosmic rays from space and from naturally occurring radioactive material (like uranium) that is in the soil and rocks under our feet and in the food we eat and water we drink. The naturally occurring exposure we receive each year can vary considerably, depending on where we choose to live and what our lifestyles may be (e.g., what specific foods we eat). In fact, the difference in the amount of natural radiation exposure we receive each year depending on where and how we choose to live can be many times the regulatory limits on public exposure allowable under law from mining operations of this kind.

You may find useful an article titled A Citizen's Guide to Uranium Mining, which addresses issues about uranium, uranium mining, and naturally occurring radioactive material. It is a humble attempt to explain in language that can be understood by nonscientists some of the basics of "uranium science."

Again, given the state of modern mining technology and the highly regulated nature of mining operations of this kind today, you and your parents should not be concerned about this proposed project.

Steven H. Brown, CHP

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 2 February 2016. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.