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Ionising radiation

Environmental Radioactivity - Medicine - Occupational Radiation Protection - Nuclear Hazards Defence

Ionisierende Strahlung


Residues with enhanced natural radioactivity have arisen from mining or industrial activities over centuries and most of them were deposited on waste rock piles or in tailings ponds. Radiation protection aspects were not taken into account. Depending on the site and usage conditions, enhanced internal and/or external radiation exposures may require subsequent radiation protection measures for members of the public. At present, Germany does not possess a legal norm on the basis of which the owners of radiological relics can be committed to perform remediation or other measures which would reduce the radiation exposure. The following articles will give an overview of the dimension of these relics in Germany.

Industrial relics with enhanced natural radioactivity

The intense industrial development in many parts of Germany since the middle of the 19th century also entailed uses of a number of raw materials containing enhanced amounts of uranium and thorium (for example bauxite, phosphorite). A variety of residues was produced which were, however, not further used at the time.

Results of outdoor radon measurements in mining areas

The annual levels of natural outdoor radon measured both all over Germany and in the mining areas of the New German Länder normally range between 5 and 30 bequerels per cubic metre and reach up to about 50 bequerels per cubic metre on rare occasions. Although radon concentrations significantly enhanced as compared to the background can occur in the vicinity of mining grounds (air shafts, dumps) in the areas of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia characterised by intense old and uranium mining (the maximum measured level was 1,700 bequerels per cubic metre at the toe of a dump), there is no large-scale impact due to mining.

Mining relics

Since most of the ores exploited presented a strong uranium mineralisation, mining residues (waste rock pile material) and in particular residues from treatment (for example tailings, slags) contain amounts of radionuclides from the uranium radium decay chain which make it necessary to consider these residues from the radiation protection point of view.

Recent consequences of the former uranium ore mining in Germany

Immediately after the end of World War II, ore mining and milling for uranium production was started in Saxony and Thuringia. After 1960, the "Soviet-German stock company Wismut" (SDAG Wismut) concentrated uranium mining in some large facilities. In 1990, uranium mining was discontinued for radiation and environmental protection but also for economic reasons. The Wismut GmbH, whose sole shareholder is the Federal Government, was founded to prepare and implement the decommissioning and remediation of the relics that were used by the SDAG Wismut after 1962.

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