Flinders University undertakes radiation research at Olympic Dam

Associate Professor Rachel Popelka-Filcoff, left, Samantha Pandelus (PhD), environmental radiation expert Jim Hondros and Flinders student Anthony Doman (Honours), right, at Olympic Dam. Image: Flinders University

Flinders University is conducting a research initiative to improve methods of monitoring background radiation in arid environments, supporting South Australia’s mining and nuclear industries.

The three-year pilot program is done in collaboration with BHP, the department of state development and radiation and analytical consultants JRHC Enterprises. It is part of the state government’s Centre of Excellence for Mining and Petroleum Services.

Apart from improving radiation monitoring methods, the project will also advance current environmental impact assessment tools and build radiation management skills and knowledge for the future.

The project is led by the university’s radioanalytical chemist, associate professor Rachel Popelka-Filcoff, and will support research opportunities for honours, masters and postgraduate positions.

With key insights into the legacy of uranium mining and radiation at Olympic Dam, BHP manager of radiation, health and hygiene, Chuong Pham, said the initiative will support South Australia’s uranium mining industry through collaborative research in environmental radiation protection.

“Building South Australia’s expertise in radiation science will provide further data, analysis and accurate measurements that are valuable to the future extraction and processing of the state’s rich uranium deposits,” he said.

“As South Australia hosts approximately 23 per cent of the world’s uranium resources and represents 80 per cent of Australia’s economic demonstrated resources, further understanding the current state of Australia’s arid environment is important for the future of mining.”

Popelka-Filcoff added that the research will investigate the historical and current environment sites in and around Olympic Dam.

“By focusing on the impact of remediation, past and present, we’ll be able to better understand radiation in the South Australian environment,” she said.

A focus on Olympic Dam is hoped to help the industry understand the elemental composition and environmental radiation at mine sites in Australia’s arid regions.

“Radiation chemistry and environmental radiation has many studies with supporting data, modelling and analysis in Europe and North America,” Popelka-Filcoff added.

“However, comprehensive and long term projects on the existence and movement of radionuclides in Australia’s arid environments are poorly documented and understood. In particular, radon chemistry within various environmental materials is not well understood.”

The first researchers on the project include honours student Anthony Doman and first-year PhD candidate Samantha Pandelus.

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