222Rn, a natural radioactive gas produced by the radioactive decay of 238U, accounts for about 50% of the total radiation dose to the average person in the UK. Geology is the most important factor controlling the source and distribution of radon; which has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer. In order to prevent the public receiving high exposures to radon, it is necessary to identify those areas most at risk. We present results of new mapping of radon potential for Scotland using a method that allows the spatial variation in radon potential to be delineated both within and between geological groupings.
The main geological and geochemical associations with moderate to high radon potential areas are described. The highest radon potential values in Scotland are associated with U-rich, highly evolved Siluro-Devonian biotite granite intrusions, notably those clustered within a zone to the west of Aberdeen and at Helmsdale, in Caithness. U mineralization plays a role in areas including the Helmsdale granite and the Middle Old Red Sandstone of the Orcadian Basin. Elevated radon potential is also associated with limestones – where fracture permeability is influential – and with Ordovician–Silurian greywackes. The radon potential of unconsolidated deposits, and how this affects the radon potential of the underlying bedrock, reflects both their permeabilities and their compositions.