NORM - What is it?

Naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) is material found in the environment that contains radioactive elements of natural origin. NORM primarily contains uranium and thorium (elements that also release radium and radon gas once they begin to decay) and potassium. These elements are naturally decaying and are considered a primary contributor to an individual's yearly background radiation dose.

Where can NORM be found?

NORM is often found in its natural state in rocks or sand. It can also be associated with oil and gas production residue (such as mineral scale in pipes, sludge and contaminated equipment), coal ash (produced from burning coal for energy production) and on filter media (such as the used filters from municipal drinking water treatment equipment). NORM can also be present in consumer products, including common building products (like brick and cement blocks), granite counter tops, glazed tiles, phosphate fertilizers and tobacco products.

Some industries may regularly come into contact with NORM – for instance, those engaged in the production of oil and gas, phosphate fertilizers, forest products and thermal electricity; mineral extraction and processing; tunneling and underground workings; metal recycling; waste management; and water treatment.

Radiation Professionals consultants have extensive expertise identifying and quantifying NORM (Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material) contaminated sites and facilities in the mining industry. Support from our team includes:

  • Environmental baseline surveys
  • Site surveys to identify the presence of NORM
  • Ongoing supervision and monitroing 
  • Quantification and classification of NORM present
  • Supervision of remediation activities on contaminated facilities
  • Storage of NORM at our facility until disposal
  • Support with identifying and obtaining approval for disposal methods for you NORM.

 

Why would I need a Radiation Management Plan?

As an employer, according to legislation you have a duty of care to all your workers. This includes a responsibility for taking steps to ensure that they are protected, within all reasonable means, from risks and hazards arising in their place of work.

If you plan on working with radiation or potentially radioactive materials, or perform any work within areas that may expose workers to radioactive materials you will need to request approval from the relevant state authority to perform the planned work. Often it is a requirement by Legislation or Regulator’s Guideline to have a Radiation Management Plan (RMP) for every proposed phase of a project or operation and it is usually coupled to the approval for each phase.

A sound RMP is your foundation case for proving to the regulator that you are aware of all the hazards and will not unnecessarily expose any worker or the public to radiation or radioactive materials.

What are the risk involved?

Naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) is all around us and generally do not pose any risk. But it is much the same as going to gym. The treadmill does not pose any risk as long as you do not disturb it – or get on it! The hazards arise when man interferes.

NORM in its natural state is contained in equilibrium, when we start turning soil, we disturb the natural balance and equilibrium and put ourselves at risk of exposure either to radioactive gasses released from the soil, contamination or radiation from the radioactive isotopes in the mineralisation.

Requirements of a Radiation Management Plan

A Radiation Management plan (RMP) is one of the most important documents in the Radiation Protection Toolbox. It provides information to Regulators, Stakeholders, Management and Workers about how radiological hazards are being managed in the workplace.

Document format and content structure will vary according to your company needs, but there is some generic information that should be included in all RMPs, these include:

Scope and Overview

The specifics of the project or operation and it lists regulatory approvals and requirements. This will also provide information on the location of the proposed works and some information on the processes involved.

Organisational Responsibilities

The management responsibilities and organisational structure, including authorisations and powers to act relating specifically to the radiation protection section or radiation safety organisation. In other words, who is who in the zoo.

Radiation Protection Principles

The principles of Radiation Protection is based on three concepts: Justification, Optimisation and Limitation.

  • A description of the justification for the operations. Why it is needed and the cost benefit of the outcome vs the risks.
  • The optimisation of protection that will be applied to all activities.
  • A description of the limitation of exposure including discussion/table with the dose limits, constraints and action levels.

Other topics covered in this section may include discussions about defence in depth and safety culture. All the things you are going to do to keep people safe.

Radiological Hazards and Controls

The hazards in the workplace, the source term, complexity and controls in place to limit exposure. This should provide information to all involved about the critical actions and raise awareness for the specific hazards. This can be done in the form of a risk assessment table and a trigger action response plan.

Classification of Areas

All work areas are classified according to the relevant risk of exposure to a worker spending a specified amount of time inside the area (usually a normal work day)

The classification of the various work areas, the exposure limits, the control of access and egress to these areas as well as the required PPE and procedures to be followed, are included in this section. The system for identifying and notification of hazards (hazard notice boards) could also be included in this section or discussed separately.

Monitoring Program

The monitoring regime, including workplace monitoring, monitoring of individuals and monitoring instrumentation is included in this section. It should discuss schedules, requirements, personal dosimetry specification and instrument care and maintenance. Environmental monitoring requirements should also be covered.

Training Requirements

The training requirements for workers with regards to radiation protection, local area inductions, safety management and hazard awareness.

Transport Requirements

This section includes information relating to movement of radiological material, samples, instruments and control according to the state, federal and international specifications, is included in this section.

Quality Assurance

This section should provide information relating to record keeping, audits and review of documents and reports.

Reference documentation

This section should list all relevant reference documents, legislation and regulations as well as guidelines that needs to be adhered to.

A Radiation Management Plan needs to be reviewed whenever any of the parameters described in the document change, on request from the Regulator or at least every two years to ensure that the risk assessment is still current.

Why do I need to do a baseline survey?

Any project and operation has a lifecycle that can be divided into various life stages. When you are planning a new project or operation on a site one of the most important things would be your baseline survey. This survey will give you a qualitative and quantitative dataset of the conditions of the site prior to turning any soil.

The major phases of any project includes the initiation, design, build, commissioning, operation, decommissioning and rehabilitation of the site. During all these phases the data that is collected during regular surveys form the basis for the exposure profile of the site for the following phase.

It provides very important information on the expected doses that workers and the public might be exposed to and informs the optimisation choices and monitoring regimes that will be needed in the following phase. All of this information is crucial inputs to the Radiation Management Plan and Approvals you will need from the Regulators.

The baseline survey that was performed prior to the building of the facilities on site provides you with the information needed to determine the conditions that you need to achieve due to your rehabilitation efforts after decommissioning at the end of the project lifecycle.

Figure 1: Typical breakdown of a project lifecycle.

When do I need to do a survey?

The purpose of a survey is two-fold. It tells you what the current radiological profile of an area is and also informs you of any specific parameter that may need attention.

Besides doing surveys in the case of incidents as part of the clean-up and rehabilitation efforts, they should form part of normal operation. In a well-informed work force all workers should understand how to use and interpret a simple radiation and contamination monitor. They should also know how to react on the results and how to check if their work area is safe.

Surveys should be done on regular intervals, depending on the type of operation. In areas where the radiological profile is relatively stable and no direct interaction with radiological material is done on a regular basis, longer periods in between surveys are sufficient. These may be such as in storage facilities which contain inactive or long lived materials that are not moved around or interfered with regularly. Such facilities may only need quarterly inspections and surveys.

Areas that see high rates of interaction and change, such as laboratories handling radioactive material samples, will need surveys on shorter interval schedules. These will usually be weekly or even more frequent.

Surveys inform us of the reigning conditions in an area, which we then use to determine the exposure of workers in these areas. These worker doses are usually reported to regulators, stakeholders and the workers in monthly, quarterly and annual reports.

Because surveys cannot be done in real time but usually on a specific schedule and after the fact, we cannot determine the precise exposure of personnel and can only work on worst case scenarios.

If we only do a survey every three months, for instance, in an active laboratory, we might not have the relevant information and can either under estimate or overestimate the worker’s exposure. This can prove a costly exercise in future should a person have been exposed to a high dose that have not been monitored.

Determining precisely what monitoring schedule is the most efficient and cost effective, is a very important part of understanding your operation’s risk profile.

Choose a Partner

When choosing a company to work with; look for: someone who has the complete offering for the management of the project; a professional that is linked to the regulatory body; a company that is committed to ensuring you get the best information.

For more information contact us