Answer to Question #12051 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:

Q

I have a holiday house in Lodève in France, which is near an old uranium mining area. The tailings were used in roads and driveways around 20 years ago. We swim in a reservoir 2 kilometers (km) from the site, and I am worried about radiation levels there and at my house (5 km away).

Could this pose a risk and is the whole surrounding area likely to be contaminated with radioactive dust? There is a report by the Commission on Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity (CRIIRAD) in French which contains statistics that I can't easily interpret.

A

In brief, it appears that your holiday house is in an area that is naturally rich in uranium, so I suggest that you consider testing for radon. In addition, you may want to contact the Lodève Local Information Commission (CLI, phone number 04 67 88 90 50) to discuss your concerns about airborne uranium dust and the status of places you swim.

You may be interested also in some background information about your situation. After the end of World War II, the French government began uranium mining in France through its Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) and then through a state-owned company (COGEMA, which became AREVA). Four of these mines (site du Bosc, La Plane/Campagnac, Rabejac, and Puech Bouissou) were near Lodève and were operated until about 1997, at which time they were closed.

There has been a lot of environmental monitoring at all of these sites both by governmental regulatory organizations such as the Institute of Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN, formerly IPSN) and the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) and by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as the CRIIRAD and the CLI.

Because I am not personally associated with these sites, I cannot say precisely what the radiological status of the area, or your house, is. However, the information I found on the web (all in French) suggests that the area is naturally rich in uranium and as such, radon testing would be a reasonable idea for you. In terms of airborne uranium dust and the status of places you swim, I would recommend contacting the Lodève CLI.

CLIs have been established locally at all French nuclear sites and are made up of local people, elected officials, and independent experts (as needed) who interact with the owner of the local nuclear site. So as an effective NGO giving an independent overview of the situation, the CLI system in France is excellent I think (although I feel also that the CRIIRAD does excellent technical work, as do the French authorities).

Ted Lazo, CHP, PhD

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