Monitoring For Radiation Hazards In Underground Mines

Miller, Robert W. ; Kriesel, Rhoda S.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 4
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1981
INTRODUCTION With each passing year, the general public becomes increasingly aware of the potential hazards associated with many products and services previously considered unharmful. This new consciousness is especially evident in the workplace, both as the result of advances in scientific understanding and the influx of concerned, responsible professionals into the labor movement. For example, data produced by epidemiologists doing retrospective mortality studies which related mortality to toxic substance exposures has often been the prime motivating factor behind reductions in exposure standards. This certainly has been the historical case with many radiation exposure standards, including the limitations set for "Working Level" exposure. The concept of "Working Level" was introduced in PHS Publication No. 494 as a result of both the difficulty in relating radiation units to biological effects and the complexity of interaction of radon daughters with the physical environment. WORKING LEVEL One working level is defined as any combination of radon daughters in one liter of air that will alternately release 1.7 x 105 MEV of alpha energy during decay of 210pb (RaD). Its usefulness is that working level can be readily measured in both the field and the laboratory. Because of this, existing occupational exposure standards for radon daughters in both the U. S. and other countries use working level as their basis. In the U. S., the last twenty years has witnessed a significant reduction in radiation exposure standards from 120 working level months to 4 working level months per year. New international standards are being proposed that would be only slightly higher than these current U. S. standards. POTENTIAL EXPOSURES TO RADON DAUGHTERS The universal use of nuclear power, along with the transfer of nuclear technology to developing nations, has significantly increased the demand for fuels. As a result, uranium mining operations have expanded and increased numbers of miners are regularly exposed to radon daughters. In addition to potential exposures in uranium mines, other deep mines such as tin, gold, platinum and tungsten, also have potential exposures due to the distribution of uranium and its accompanying radium throughout much of the earth's crust. The energy crisis has also prompted interest in general population exposure to radon daughters in buildings. Many homeowners, using additional insulation and caulking to seal cracks and conserve energy, have reduced indoor ventilation to the point where working level exposure could become significant, especially in homes with unventilated crawl spaces. In fact, several serious exposure situations have occurred where mine tailings were used for building materials. MEASUREMENT TECHNIQUES Historically, rapid and convenient measurement techniques have been actively sought to improve the ability of ventilation engineers to limit mining exposures through ventilation control. A number of measurement techniques have been developed, including the Kusnetz method (further elaborated by Shalaynev) and techniques developed by Rolle and Tsivoglou. All, however, suffer from similar handicaps that prevent their usefulness in the mining environment. Their main limitation, in terms of minimizing employee exposure, is the elapsed time from the start of sampling until the results can be calculated. It is usually 40 to 90 minutes. This time delay presents both serious economic limitations as well as the potential for exposing workers to high radon daughter concentrations until calculations are completed and corrections made. Further reducing the utility of the Kusnetz and Tsivoglou techniques is the need for tedious calculations that increase the possibility of human error along with the need for cumbersome sampling equipment that is not ideally suited to the mining environment. INSTANT WORKING LEVEL METER To alleviate these problems, the idea of an Instant Working Level Meter was conceived by several groups. Several such instruments were proposed, built, and tested with disappointing results. Although the concepts behind them were sound, the instruments simply failed to measure working level without excessive distortion. In addition, their cost was relatively high, gamma background presented a problem, and sophisticated computations were necessary to determine working level. In short, these systems lacked the design engineering that would make them suitable for the demands of a mining environment.
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