Uranium and health: industry has to face the unpleasant facts, SENATOR SCOTT LUDLAM, AUSTRALIAN GREENS SENATOR FOR WESTERN AUSTRALIA, 22 Oct 11, Mr. Michael Angwin of the Australian Uranium Association has objected to my statement to the ABC that ‘Uranium mining has killed a lot of its workforce’, and has demanded I withdraw the comment.
I will do no such thing.
There is a well-established link between uranium mining and lung cancer.
Uranium miners are exposed to radon gas. According to the WHO, radon is a carcinogen 2 and the second most common cause of cancer in the world, responsible for up to 14% of all lung cancer and 30% of lung cancers in non-smokers. All radon studies of lung cancer show a linear relationship between dose and risk of cancer.
In 2009, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) reported that radon exposure was more risky than experts had thought, and cut the recommended dose threshold by half. 3
The Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation VI report (1999) 4 reviewed eleven studies covering a total of 60,000 underground uranium miners. The report found an increasing frequency of lung cancer, directly proportional to the cumulative amount of radon the miners had been exposed to.
As the industry knows, radiation exposure can take a decade or more to manifest as a cancer or other condition, which makes it impossible to put a time and a place on exposure. Despite this, many peer reviewed studies 5 of uranium mine workers shows increased cancer mortality as well as chromosomal aberrations.
The industry often underestimates worker exposure as it is presumed that miners always use personal protective equipment designed to reduce inhalation. The fact is, they often don’t.
The maximum additional radiation exposure permitted to the general public is 1 millisievert per year; for uranium miners it is 20 millisieverts. This increased exposure to radiation increases the risks and the occurrences of cancer.
Science predicts an increase of 1 in 10,000 incidence of cancer per 1 millisievert. The average uranium mine worker is in their late 20s and stays 3 to 5 years. If they receive the average of 3-8 millisieverts per year and don’t wear their protective equipment at all times, that average increases steeply.
Today’s standards are better than the conditions that wiped out the miners of Bohemia or the Native Americans of the Four Corners region in the USA. But uranium mining has killed a lot of its workforce – globally, historically and currently, Mr. Angwin.