Naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM), has been in existence since the Big Bang. With industrial practices involving natural resources, this material can also be classified in its technically enhanced form (TENORM). Much has been documented and published on this subject; however, within our industry there is a need to better educate our collegues on the understanding of what TENORM is, how it should be handled, who should be responsible for it, what precautions are required, and the local, national, and international regulatory and safe-handling information. The issues related to TENORM are extremely relevant to numerous sectors of the oil and gas industry, including the area of electrical submersible pumps (ESPs). ESPs can become contaminated by TENORM and may then present exposure risks to personnel and equipment. Thus, those working with ESPs must understand the risks, safety limits, contamination prevention, effects on equipment, decontamination, disposal methods, and the legalities involved. The information included in this paper is conveyed in such a manner that it can be disseminated to the appropriate workforce.
Naturally occurring radioactive material NORM or, as it is sometimes referred to, Low Specific Activity (LSA) material, is everywhere and as the earth is a radioactive environment each and every one of us is exposed to it every day. In fact, it has been around since the "Big Bang" and we continue to be exposed to it both in terms of our natural environment and the cosmic radiation coming from space. Scientists estimate that around 100,000 cosmic ray neutrons and 400,000 secondary cosmic rays penetrate our bodies every hour. Additionally, around 200,000,000 gamma rays which are emitted from the ground also pass through our bodies every hour. It is also estimated that we breathe 30,000 atoms of radioactive elements (Radon, Polonium, Bismuth and Lead) each hour and within our bodies about 15,000,000 radioactive Potassium 40 atoms disintegrate every hour.
Living systems have adapted to these levels of radiation and radioactivity and humans apparently suffer no ill effect from this. The levels vary significantly across different regions of the earth and there is no correlation between these variations and the incidence of radiation-induced illness. However, some industrial practices that involve natural resources concentrate these radionuclides to a level that has the potential to result in risk to humans and the environment, if they are not controlled properly.