Uranium is mined and used as fuel in nuclear reactors for building heavy shields and artilleries by armies, in the making of planes and helicopters and for making nuclear weapons. It is a very rare and tough metal. Australia, Canada and Kazakhstan constitute almost 70 percent of the Uranium mined all over the world today.
Uranium being a radioactive element, has its health hazards. The Uranium ore by itself is quite harmless as it contains very less quantity of the pure element, but the extraction process of this unique element releases Radon, which is hazardous to inhale.
Radiation can seep through human bodies through internal exposure and external exposure of Uranium and its byproducts. Internal exposure is caused by the exposure of Uranium radiation when it is inhaled, ingested or through a wound on the skin surface. Whereas, the external exposure of radiation is caused by the alpha, beta or gamma rays emitted during the process.
There are quite a few harmful effects of Uranium mining one should be aware of, we have listed few of them here.
Radon emission is the prime most concern in Uranium mining. This odorless, tasteless and colorless gas is highly radioactive and causes occupational health hazards like lung cancer in miners and others closely related to the mining process.
Bismuth and lead
Besides the byproduct Radon, there are other harmful emissions like Bismuth and Lead, which are produced as a result of radioactive decay that are equally hazardous to the health of miners and processors.
Radioactive elements like Thorium is highly airborne and could prove disastrous if the process is struck by natural calamity and this airborne radiation spreads to the nearby human habitat.
Other than the radio nuclides, other occupational health hazards caused during mining is from silica dust and diesel exhaust. Exposure to these harmful byproducts causes lung cancer. As it is, the radiation exposure is already responsible for lung cancer among the mining operators, now these non-radiation byproducts will aggravate the cancer.
Mining related injuries
Mining of Uranium happens under highly stressful environment. Work related physical trauma due to injuries, human errors and accidents are of regular occurrence. Hearing loss and distortion of vision are also quite frequent with miners.
Effect on the musculoskeletal system
Whole body vibration is a common physical hazard seen in most of the mining community and Uranium miners are also affected by this. Exposure to the operation of heavy machineries over a long period of time brings about strain to the whole musculoskeletal system, reproductive organs, digestive system and cardiovascular system.
Mining atmosphere is very hot and humid. There is great thermal stress that the miners and operators have to go through in the process, which is potential hazard to the health. Over exposures to thermal stress, causes fatigue and tiredness, which by itself is not good for the body and its organs over a long period; this fatigue can also lead to un-productivity and human errors that can cause accidents, which will be of grave danger.
Overexposure to UV rays
Too much exposure to UV rays during the mining process over a long time is the leading cause of skin cancer in miners today.
Chemical related health problems
Besides all the different radiations, occupational hazards and stress related hazards involved in mining, there is chemical related health hazards too during the mining of Uranium. Working in close proximity to hazardous chemicals over a long time, exposes the bodies of the miners to cancers, skin diseases, burns, loss of smell, etc.
Poor quality lives of miners
Lifestyle related health hazards are commonly seen in miners. Mining activities are generally far away from towns and cities; long hours are spent at a stretch too for months in the process. This kind of lifestyle gives the miners very less self-time for taking care of their personal health and it aggravates the usual lifestyle diseases seen today.