In September 2020, an extensive EU-funded research project was launched to investigate the effects of chronic exposure to low doses of radon and other naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) on humans and the environment. The five-year term RadoNorm project has a funding total of EUR 22 million and involves 56 institutions from 22 European countries, including the ELKH Centre for Energy Research.
The project received funding of EUR 18 million from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. It is being coordinated by Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection. The consortium includes Belgium’s Nuclear Research Centre (SCK-CEN), Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, France’s Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, Sweden’s Radiation Safety Authority, and the UK’s Department of Health. The Environmental Physics Laboratory of the ELKH Centre for Energy Research is responsible for the coordination of the dosimetry work package, and also participates in the modeling of biological effects and the organization of training programs.
All minerals and raw materials contain radionuclides of natural origin. The most important for the purposes of radiation protection are the radionuclides in the U-238 and Th-232 decay series. For most human activities involving minerals and raw materials, the levels of exposure to these radionuclides are not significantly greater than normal background levels and are not of concern for radiation protection. However, certain work activities can give rise to significantly enhanced exposure that may need to be controlled by regulation.
NORM potentially includes all radioactive elements found in the environment. However, the term is used more specifically for all naturally occurring radioactive materials where human activities have increased the potential for exposure compared with an unaltered state. Long-lived radioactive elements such as uranium, thorium and potassium and any of their decay products, such as radium and radon, are examples of NORM.
There are many industries that process NORM including the mining of any ores (uranium is already controlled), rare earths, thorium and niobium/tantalum ore extraction, oil and gas production, titanium dioxide pigment production, thermal phosphorus, zircon and zirconium, phosphate fertilizers, cement, geothermal energy production, coal-fired power plants, phosphoric acid production, iron production, tin/lead/copper smelting and ground water filtration facilities.
The RadoNorm participants stated the project is designed to initiate and perform research and technical development in support of EU Member States, associated countries and the European Commission in their efforts to implement the European Basic Safety Standards for Radiation Protection. The research project will target all relevant steps of the radiation risk management cycle for radon and NORM exposure situations. RadoNorm aims to reduce scientific, technical and societal uncertainties by initiating and performing research and technical developments, and integrating education and training in all research and development activities. It will disseminate the project achievements through targeted actions to the public, stakeholders and regulators.