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Content archived on 2024-05-29

Assessment of environmental risk for use of radioactively contaminated industrial tailings

Final Report Summary - INTAILRISK (Assessment of environmental risk for use of radioactively contaminated industrial tailings)

The objectives of the project INTAILRISK were to assess and to quantify the risks for health of the population and of the environment emanating from Radionuclides (RN) in the wastes (tailings, derived products) of coal burning power plants, and alumina treatment plants, focused on Western Balkan countries. The project investigated the risk from the wastes themselves, and additionally tried to assess the best use of recycled material considering the risk factor. It examined the existing monitoring practice and formulated recommendations to optimise existing radiation protection and monitoring management.

The project aimed to reach its objectives by:
- assessing the presence and type of radionuclides in the primary and waste products, and its parameters;
- analysing and identifying the pathways for dispersion of radionuclides (erosion, dust re-suspension, surface water, groundwater) in the neighbourhood of the wastes, and defining the impact of the wastes on the ecosystem;
- assessing the impact on health of the population in the plants and in the vicinity of the wastes from the presence of radionuclides (gas-emission, inhalation);
- defining the risk from the use of by-products of the wastes (building material that contains fly ash, disposal in engineered surface impoundments and landfills, industrial product based on waste material).

Based on the results of these case studies, the project:
- examined the radiation protection management and the monitoring practice for the investigated test-sites;
- developed recommendations for each type of tailing dump in order to optimise the existing protection and remediation practice;
- promoted the adoption of existing legislations and regulations in the participating Western Balkan countries in conformity with the EU Directives for harmonisation of radiation protection practice.

The first achieved task was to manage and organise the project activities by organising and assembling the Steering committee (SC), the Scientific support E group (SSG), Regulations support group (RSG) and information and Demonstration support group (IDSG) in order to provide to the project partners (contractors) clearly defined tasks and to outline the detailed work plan for INTAILRISK. The different management bodies assembled during six meetings. During these meetings, the technical details and practical organisation of the work in the frame of INTAILRISK have been stipulated. On those meetings, all 11 partners (contractors) have been present and actively participated to the work.

A comprehensive overview has been compiled on:
1) coal and alumina production and Coal burning power plants (CBPP) characteristics and their waste deposits in three different participating countries;
2) the investigation of similar topics in other { countries and on other types of deposits that present analogies with the considered deposits; and
3) the industrial applications of waste material.

The compiled information shows that:
- raw material (mainly brown-coal and lignite) with high NORM contents has been used in several CBPP of the involved Western Balkan countries and the associated case studies in Hungary and NIS countries. The CBPP were generally located close to the mining districts.
- the tailings (waste depositories, dumps) of many of the coal combustion products (CCP's, containing NORM) indeed show increased total gamma dose rate and as such imply potential environmental / health hazards.
- the extend due to leakage (transport) of RN outside the disposal sites is in general poorly monitored and not well understood. This point has to be elaborated by deeper investigations in the frame of INTAILRISK activities.
- there exist strong differences in waste management practices between the different countries. Some tailings are fully remediated while others are even not monitored.
- information on alumina industry is scarce, due to 1) strategic importance and / or 2) industrial interests.

Based on the results of analysis of existing information, a detailed action programme for experimental work on targeted waste deposits in the considered countries has been established, and the monitoring techniques to be used have been selected. In every target country (Hungary, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, Albania, Russia and Kyrgyzstan), one or several test-sites with specific interests have been selected for (part of the) investigation studying the wastes and extend of the radioactive impact from these wastes. A description of the test sites is given on the project website (please see online), with an online searchable database in a GIS context.

A detailed intercomparison exercise has been carried out in which the different teams analysed the same samples in order to compare analytical procedures and results. The report shows a good correlation for most aspects of the intercomparison. Only for the part of soil-gas radon measurements, important differences have been observed, which can be most probably related to differences in equipment calibration and heterogeneity of the sub-surface where the intercomparison field exercise has been carried out.

Field-work determining the occurrence, nature and distribution of radionuclides in the wastes of selected industries in the considered test-sites has been carried out.

The results of these investigations show that:
- it is not always evident to discern natural from artificial pollution by RN and related chemical pollution. The natural background in some areas is in the same order of magnitude as the RN related to the waste.
- gamma dose rate, radon in air and in soil seems to be restricted to the close vicinity of the tailing ponds.
- the increased indoor radon related to RN increase in the environment around CBPP and their tailings is the main potential hazard for health, if compared to RN content in water, crop and animal products. However, again a distinction between the artificial indoor radon from the natural background is not always possible.
- although a general increase of RN content relative to the background is observed in some parameters at all studied test-sites, the increase in RN content remains low, and modest in terms of dose.
- assessing the migration processes of RN from the waste to the environment is being aimed at by studying RN disequilibrium, transfer factors to consumption products, groundwater contaminant flow modelling and leaching-experiments. The results show a limited effect on the environment and human radiological exposure (dose).

A project website has been developed and activated online. The website describes the outline of the project, the existing background information, a description of the selected test-sites, project-related publications and relevant web-links, the state and findings of the different Work packages (WPs), and project-partner information (password protected) containing administrative and financial documents, meeting reports and new (unpublished) scientific findings that cannot be made public yet.

The website functions as a public source of information on CBPP and alumina- related TNORM problems in Western Balkan, and therefore is complementary to various existing web-sites on lignite and alumina industry. Additionally, the website stimulates consortium cooperation and facilitates communication between the partners.

A detailed overview of the existing regulations and monitoring / remediation practices is given. The results show that all involved countries have relatively sound legislation concerning the monitoring and remediation of waste materials containing Naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM). However, the implementation of the law and the follow up is often hampered by a lack of financial recourses and a dispersion of competences on too many administrative levels.

The project online data-base has been updated (WP7). The data-base contains data and meta-data for every test-site, organised in a GIS (clickable map) outline and searchable trough terms and geography. The data-base contains the general and some detailed information collected in the frame of INTAILRISK and is available to the project partners in the current stage, and will be made public in a later stage.

The potential stake-holders (end-users) benefiting from the results of the INTAILRISK project have been contacted. In the first place, authorities of CBPP and Alumina smelter plants are stakeholders, and have been reached by local workshops discussing the findings of the INTAILRISK project. Secondly, the ministry of health and the responsible persons for monitoring and waste management policy are end-users that were addressed concerning the project findings. Also, the local population, mainly concerned with personal health issues, have been approached and informed concerning the INTAILRISK results. Especially indoor radon and ground-water RN are of importance. Information has been dissipated trough advertisement in journals and road-shows, and trough scientific publications and presentations.