A study on natural radioactivity in Khewra Salt Mines, Pakistan

J Radiat Res. 2012;53(3):411-21. doi: 10.1269/jrr.11162.

Abstract

The Khewra Salt Mines, the second largest salt mines in the world, are located 160 km south of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Around 1000 workers are involved in the removal of salt from these mines. More than 40,000 visitors come annually to see the mines. The visitors and workers are directly exposed to the internal and external radiological hazards of radon and gamma rays in these mines. The general public is affected by the intake of the salt containing the naturally occurring radionuclides. Therefore the concentration of radon (²²²Rn) in the Khewra Salt Mines and activity concentrations of the naturally occurring radionuclides in the salt samples from these mines were measured. Both active and passive techniques were employed for the measurement of radon with Radon Alpha Detector (RAD-7) and SSNTD respectively. The concentration of ²²²Rn was 26 ± 4 Bq m⁻³ measured by the active method while 43 ± 8 Bq m⁻³ was measured by the passive method. The activity concentration of the radionuclides was measured using gamma ray spectrometry with HPGe detector. The mean activity of ⁴⁰K in salt samples was found to be 36 ± 20 Bq kg⁻¹ and the concentration of ²²⁶Ra and ²³²Th in the salt samples was below the detection limits. Gamma radiation hazard was assessed in terms of the external gamma dose from salt slabs and the rooms made of salt and the annual effective dose due to gamma radiation. The exposure to radon daughters, annual effective dose and excessive lifetime cancer risk due to radon in the mines were estimated. The mean annual effective dose due to an intake of ⁴⁰K from the salt was calculated as 20.0 ± 11.1 µSv, which is lower than the average annual effective dose rate of 0.29 mSv, received by the ingestion of natural radionuclides. Due to the low concentration values of primordial radionuclides in the salt and radon ²²²Rn) in the mines, a 'low level activity measurement laboratory' is suggested to be established in these mines.

MeSH terms

  • Background Radiation / adverse effects*
  • Gamma Rays / adverse effects
  • Hazardous Substances / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Mining*
  • Pakistan
  • Radioisotopes / isolation & purification
  • Radiometry / instrumentation
  • Radon / adverse effects
  • Sodium Chloride / isolation & purification

Substances

  • Hazardous Substances
  • Radioisotopes
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Radon