Doses and risks from uranium are not increased significantly by interactions with natural background photon radiation

R. J. Tanner*, J. S. Eakins, J. T.M. Jansen, J. D. Harrison

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The impact of depleted uranium (DU) on human health has been the subject of much conjecture. Both the chemical and radiological aspects of its behaviour in the human body have previously been investigated in detail, with the radiological impact being assumed to be linked to the alpha decay of uranium. More recently, it has been proposed that the accumulation in tissue of high-Z materials, such as DU, may give rise to enhanced local energy deposition in the presence of natural background photon radiation due to the high photoelectric interaction cross sections of high-Z atoms. It is speculated that, in addition to producing short-range photoelectrons, these events will be followed by intense Auger and Coster-Kronig electron emission, thereby causing levels of cell damage that are unaccounted for in conventional models of radiological risk. In this study, the physical and biological bases of these claims are investigated. The potential magnitudes of any effect are evaluated and discussed, and compared with the risks from other radiological or chemical hazards. Monte Carlo calculations are performed to estimate likely energy depositions due to the presence of uranium in human tissues in photon fields: whole body doses, organ doses in anthropomorphic phantoms and nano-/micro-dosimetric scenarios are each considered. The proposal is shown generally to be based on sound physics, but overall the impact on human health is expected to be negligible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-343
Number of pages21
JournalRadiation Protection Dosimetry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012


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