EU research project focuses on radon and NORM

28 September 2020

An extensive EU-funded research project has been 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 EUR22 million (USD26 million), five-year RadoNorm project involves 56 partners from 22 European countries.

A map showing indoor radon levels in Europe (Image: European Geoscience Union)

The project has received funding of EUR18 million from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The RadoNorm project began at the start of this month and will run until August 2025. It is being coordinated by Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection. Its participants include 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.

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 exposures 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 the unaltered situation. 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.

Industries which process NORM include, specifically 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 fertilisers; 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 said 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 radiation protection Basic Safety Standards. 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.

The project aims to map out radon and NORM exposures, develop new dosimetry techniques, evaluate impact on health and ecology, increase understanding of societal aspects and integrate uniform training into companies working with such materials.

"The great strength of the RadoNorm project is the cross-pollination between numerous scientific disciplines," said Tanja Perko, project co-ordinator at SCK-CEN. "It brings together researchers from lots of areas: both in the natural sciences and in the social sciences."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News