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Occupational Safety Hazards in Uranium Mining

Uranium is one of the world’s most important energy minerals, and it can be mined in three ways: in situ leaching, open-pit mining, or underground mining. But uranium mining exposes workers to several occupational safety hazards, namely radiation hazards.

While uranium is weakly radioactive, its decay products, which include isotopes of lead and bismuth, release gamma radiation. This makes mining uranium ore hazardous to human health. Therefore, monitoring risks in uranium mines is crucial.

Key fact: In situ leaching accounts for 57% of the world’s production of uranium, while open-pit and underground mining accounts for 43%

To minimise workers’ exposure to this dangerous environment, uranium mines are bringing automation into their processes. For example, Canada’s Cigar Lake, the world’s largest uranium deposit, now employs fully-automated hydraulic mining. Known as jet boring, this replaces the need to bring miners into contact with the ore.

Another way of mitigating risks in uranium mining is to provide intelligent ventilation systems in underground mines, which limit workers’ exposure to radon gas and other radioactive daughter isotopes.

Benefits

  • Reduces occupational safety hazards

  • Automation optimises productivity

  • Allows one of the most important energy minerals to be mined safely

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