The Transport Characteristics of 238U, 232Th, 226Ra, and 40K in the Production Cycle of Phosphate Rock

  • Jung, Yoonhee (Environmental Radioactivity Assessment Team, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute) ;
  • Lim, Jong-Myoung (Environmental Radioactivity Assessment Team, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute) ;
  • Ji, Young-Yong (Environmental Radioactivity Assessment Team, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute) ;
  • Chung, Kun Ho (Environmental Radioactivity Assessment Team, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute) ;
  • Kang, Mun Ja (Environmental Radioactivity Assessment Team, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute)
  • Received : 2016.06.03
  • Accepted : 2017.01.05
  • Published : 2017.03.31


Background: Phosphate rock and its by-product are widely used in various industries to produce phosphoric acid, gypsum, gypsum board, and fertilizer. Owing to its high level of natural radioactive nuclides (e.g., $^{238}U$ and $^{226}Ra$), the radiological safety of workers who work with phosphate rock should be systematically managed. In this study, $^{238}U$, $^{232}Th$, $^{226}Ra$, and $^{40}K$ levels were measured to analyze the transport characteristics of these radionuclides in the production cycle of phosphate rock. Materials and Methods: Energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence and gamma spectrometry were used to determine the activity of $^{238}U$, $^{232}Th$, $^{226}Ra$, and $^{40}K$. To evaluate the extent of secular disequilibrium, the analytical results were compared using statistical methods. Finally, the distribution of radioactivity across different stages of the phosphate rock production cycle was evaluated. Results and Discussion: The concentration ratios of $^{226}Ra$ and $^{238}U$ in phosphate rock were close to 1.0, while those found in gypsum and fertilizer were extremely different, reflecting disequilibrium after the chemical reaction process. The nuclide with the highest activity level in the production cycle of phosphate rock was $^{40}K$, and the median $^{40}K$ activity was $8.972Bq{\cdot}g^{-1}$ and $1.496Bq{\cdot}g^{-1}$, respectively. For the $^{238}U$ series, the activity of $^{238}U$ and $^{226}Ra$ was greatest in phosphate rock, and the distribution of activity values clearly showed the transport characteristics of the radionuclides, both for the byproducts of the decay sequences and for their final products. Conclusion: Although the activity of $^{40}K$ in k-related fertilizer was relatively high, it made a relatively low contribution to the total radiological effect. However, the activity levels of $^{226}Ra$ and $^{238}U$ in phosphate rock were found to be relatively high, near the upper end of the acceptable limits. Therefore, it is necessary to systematically manage the radiological safety of workers engaged in phosphate rock processing.


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