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Health Hazards for Nuclear Fuel Industry Workers - Science Issues

(last updated 2 Jun 2021)

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Workers in early uranium processing facilities suffer higher mortality from dementia and Alzheimer's disease

Data were pooled for workers from four uranium processing facilities (Fernald, Mallinckrodt and Middlesex from the U.S.; and Port Hope, Canada). Employment began as early as the 1930s and follow-up was as late as 2017. Workers were exposed to high concentrations of uranium, radium, and their decay products, as well as gamma radiation and ambient radon decay products. Exposure and outcome data were harmonized using similar definitions and dose reconstruction methods. Standardized mortality ratios (SMR) were estimated. [...]
Only SMR for dementia and Alzheimer's disease among males was statistically significant (SMR=1.29; 95% confidence interval: 1.04, 1.54). [...]
Cohort profile: four early uranium processing facilities in the US and Canada, by Ashley P. Golden, Cato M. Milder, Elizabeth D. Ellis, et al., in: International Journal of Radiation Biology 2021, Vol. 97, No. 6, p. 833847

New dose model reveals significant organ doses from Technetium-99 for former gaseous diffusion plant workers caused from early processing of recycled uranium

"As part of an ongoing study of health effects in a pooled cohort of gaseous diffusion plant workers, organ dose from internal exposure to uranium was evaluated. Due to the introduction of recycled uranium into the plants, there was also potential for exposure to radiologically significant levels of 99Tc, 237Np and 238,239Pu. In the evaluation of dose response, these radionuclide exposures could confound the effect of internal uranium. Using urine bioassay data for study subjects reported in facility records, intakes and absorbed dose to bone surface, red bone marrow and kidneys were estimated as these organs were associated with a priori outcomes of interest. Additionally, 99Tc intakes and doses were calculated using a new systemic model for technetium and compared to intakes and doses calculated using the current model recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. Organ absorbed doses for the transuranics were significant compared to uranium doses; however, 99Tc doses calculated using the new systemic model were significant as well. Use of the new model resulted in an increase in 99Tc-related absorbed organ dose of a factor of 8 (red bone marrow) to 30 (bone surface)."
Exposure to Recycled Uranium Contaminants in Gaseous Diffusion Plants, by Anderson JL, Apostoaei AI, Yiin JH, et al., in: Radiation Protection Dosimetry, aheadofprint, Jan. 16, 2017

International cohort study among nuclear workers confirms Linear No-Threshold model for low dose rates

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International cohort study finds association between protracted low-dose radiation exposure and leukemia among nuclear workers

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Study among French nuclear workers finds increased mortality risk from exposure to reprocessed uranium

"BACKGROUND: This article presents the mortality data compiled among a cohort of workers at risk of internal uranium exposure and discusses the extent to which this exposure might differentiate them from other nuclear workers.
METHODS: The cohort consisted of 2897 Areva-NC-Pierrelatte plant workers, followed from 1st January 1968 through 31st December 2006 (79,892 person-years). [...]
RESULTS: [...] A significant exposure-effect relationship was observed for slowly soluble uranium, particularly RPU [reprocessed uranium], which was associated with an increase in mortality risk reaching 8 to 16 % per unit of cumulative exposure score and 10 to 15 % per year of exposure duration."
Effets de la contamination chronique à l'uranium sur la mortalité: bilan d'une étude-pilote chez les travailleurs de l'industrie nucléaire en France [Effects of chronic uranium internal exposure on mortality: Results of a pilot study among French nuclear workers], by Guseva Canu, I; Zhivin, S; Garsi, J-P; et al., in: Revue d'Épidémiologie et de Santé Publique, Vol. 62, No. 6 (Dec. 2014), p. 339-350

Carcinogenicity of uranium might depend on its physical and chemical nature and its isotopic composition, study finds

"RESULTS: We observed that exposure to reprocessed uranium entails increasing risks of mortality from lung cancer and lymphatic and hematopoietic malignancies (the most significant hazard ratio being respectively 1.14 (95% CI: 1.00-1.31) and 1.20 (95% CI: 1.01-1.43) per unit of a time-lagged log-transformed continuous exposure scores), and that the hazard ratios tend to increase with decreasing solubility of the compounds."
Uranium carcinogenicity in humans might depend on the physical and chemical nature of uranium and its isotopic composition: results from pilot epidemiological study of French nuclear workers, by Guseva Canu I, Jacob S, Cardis E, et al., in: Cancer causes & control , ahead of print Aug 28, 2011

Study suggests increased lung cancer risk associated with exposure to reprocessed uranium

"This study investigated the risk of lung cancer in regards to protracted occupational exposure to reprocessed uranium compounds. Two thousand seven hundred and nine male workers employed at the AREVA NC uranium processing plant between 1960 and 2005 in France were included in the cohort.
[...] The relative risk of lung cancer tended to increase with decreasing solubility of reprocessed uranium compounds. The highest - though not statistically significant - relative risk was observed among workers exposed to slowly soluble reprocessed uranium dioxide.
This study is the first suggesting an increasing risk of lung cancer associated with exposure to reprocessed uranium. Our results are consistent with data from experimental studies of biokinetics and the action mechanism of slowly soluble uranium compounds, but need to be confirmed in larger studies with more detailed dose-response analyses. "
Reprocessed uranium exposure and lung cancer risk, by Canu IG, Jacob S, Cardis E, et al., in: Health Physics September 2010 (Vol. 99, No. 3), p. 308-313

Study finds effect from inhalation of MOX particles is similar to plutonium particles

"Accidental exposure by inhalation to alpha-emitting particles from mixed oxide (MOX: uranium and plutonium oxide) fuels is a potential long-term health risk to workers in nuclear fuel fabrication plants. For MOX fuels, the risk of lung cancer development may be different from that assigned to individual components (plutonium, uranium) given different physico-chemical characteristics. The objective of this study was to investigate late effects in rat lungs following inhalation of MOX aerosols of similar particle size containing 2.5 or 7.1% plutonium.
[...] In conclusion, late effects following MOX inhalation result in similar risk for development of lung tumors as compared with industrial plutonium oxide. "
Late-occurring pulmonary pathologies following inhalation of mixed oxide (uranium + plutonium oxide) aerosol in the rat, by Griffiths N M, Van der Meeren A, Fritsch P, et al., in: Health Physics September 2010 (Vol. 99, No. 3), p. 347-356

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