IMPACT ASSESSMENT OF ENHANCED EXPOSURE FROM NATURALLY OCCURRING RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS (NORM) WITHIN LCA
Joyce, Peter James
Tkaczyk, Alan Henry
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The potential impact of ionising radiation from enhanced exposure to Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) to humans and the environment is not currently accounted for sufficiently in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Here we present midpoint and endpoint characterisation factors resulting from the implementation of impact assessment models for human health and ecosystems for NORM exposure. These models build upon existing fate, exposure and effect models from the LCA and radiological literature. The newly developed models are applied to a theoretical study of the utilisation of bauxite residue, a by-product of alumina processing enriched in natural radionuclides, in building materials. The ecosystem models have significant sensitivity to uncertainties surrounding the differential environmental fate of parent and daughter radionuclides that are produced as a part of decay chains, and to assumptions regarding long term releases from landfill sites. However, conservative results for environmental exposure suggest that in addition to landfill of materials, power consumption (burning coal and mining uranium) is a potentially significant source of radiological impact to the environment. From a human perspective, exposure to NORM in the use phase of building materials is the dominant source of impact, with environmental releases of nuclides playing a comparatively minor role. At an endpoint level, the impact of NORM exposure is highly significant in comparison to other impact categories in the area of protection of human health. This highlights the importance within LCA of having sufficient impact assessment models to capture all potential impacts, such that issues of burden shifting between impact measures can be captured, interpreted and resolved in the optimisation of product systems.