Radiological assessment for bauxite mining and alumina refining
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Objective: Two international benchmarks assess whether the mining and processing of ores containing Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) require management under radiological regulations set by local jurisdictions. First, the 1 Bq/g benchmark for radionuclide head of chain activity concentration determines whether materials may be excluded from radiological regulation. Second, processes may be exempted from radiological regulation where occupational above-background exposures for members of the workforce do not exceed 1 mSv/year. This is also the upper-limit of exposure prescribed for members of the public. Alcoa of Australia Limited (Alcoa) has undertaken radiological evaluations of the mining and processing of bauxite from the Darling Range of Western Australia since the 1980s. Short-term monitoring projects have demonstrated that above-background exposures for workers do not exceed 1 mSv/year. A whole-of-year evaluation of above-background, occupational radiological doses for bauxite mining, alumina refining and residue operations was conducted during 2008/2009 as part of the Alcoa NORM Quality Assurance System (NQAS). The NQAS has been guided by publications from the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). The NQAS has been developed specifically in response to implementation of the Australian National Directory on Radiation Protection (NDRP).Methods: Positional monitoring was undertaken to increase the accuracy of natural background levels required for correction of occupational exposures. This is important in view of the small increments in exposure that occur in bauxite mining, alumina refining and residue operations relative to natural background. Positional monitoring was also undertaken to assess the potential for exposure in operating locations. Personal monitoring was undertaken to characterise exposures in Similar Exposure Groups (SEGs). The monitoring was undertaken over 12 months, to provide annual average assessments of above-background doses, thereby reducing temporal variations, especially for radon exposures. The monitoring program concentrated on gamma and radon exposures, rather than gross alpha exposures, as past studies have shown that gross alpha exposures from inhalable dust for most of the workforce are small in comparison to combined gamma and radon exposures.Results: The natural background determinations were consistent with data in the literature for localities near Alcoa’s mining, refining and residue operations in Western Australia, and also with UNSCEAR global data. Within the mining operations, there was further consistency between the above-background dose estimates and the local geochemistry, with slight elevation of dose levels in mining pits. Conservative estimates of above-background levels for the workforce have been made using an assumption of 100% occupancy (1920 hours per year) for the SEGs considered. Total incremental composite doses for individuals were clearly less than 1.0 mSv/year when gamma, radon progeny and gross alpha exposures were considered. This is despite the activity concentration of some materials being slightly higher than the benchmark of 1 Bq/g.
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