Health hazards of mining radioactive substances


Especially hazardous for miners is extracting radioactive ores, such as uranium. Ionizing radiation and radon gas are known to cause lung cancer in miners.


A study of 2574 men and women employed at a uranium mine in South Australia from 1948 to 1962, showed that the risk of contracting lung cancer doubled for every 26 months of underground work. 9% of deaths of miners was from lung cancer, and the major causes of death were similar to those of the general population. For an average non-smoking underground miner who works for 40 years from age 20, the lifetime risk of lung cancer is increased from about 11 per 1,000 to 15 per 1,000. (By comparison, the lifetime risk for smokers from smoking-related lung and heart disease is about 250 in 1,000). The finding is consistent with studies of miners in Canada, Sweden and Czechoslovakia.

In 1990, after years of legal and political action, the USA issued a formal apology and promised to compensate the families of Navajo miners who had died young of lung cancer through mining uranium ore for atomic bombs. The government in the 1950s confirmed that the cancers among miners were caused by exposure in the mines to high levels of radon produced by the decay of radium in uranium ores. Not until the late 1960s did it warn the miners of excessive levels of radiation in the mines and the dangers. It justified its silence on the basis of national security and its need for the uranium. In 1991-92, Congress appropriated $200-million to provide compensation to people injured or killed by the nuclear-weapons industry.

Lung cancer
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 15: Life on Land
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST