Is Uranium ore dangerous?

From college physics, Uranium only emits Alpha particles, which skin blocks easily. However if I recall, one of the produced daughter elements is Radon, which is pretty radioactive.
So, counter intuitively, is Uranium ore more dangerous than Uranium the element itself?

Bumping, because I’m curious.

The ore itself, not so much. Uranium ores in general aren’t super-dangerous to be around (well, U itself is toxic besides the radioactivity, so don’t eat it).

The places where the ore occurs, especially underground, where radon gas can accumulate, are much more so. One of my jobs as a gold mine geologist was doing occasional gas testing. Some reefs in South African gold mines have enough uranium to count as an ore.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety commission is conducting a major study on uranium miners’ health. It does seem that radon is the major issue:

There was a phenomenon in one area of Africa where a large natural uranium ore deposit was sufficiently large and concentrated that it became a moderately low level nuclear reactor, creating more radioactive minerals…

The Oklo mine.

Radon is a gas and so can be inhaled and therefore the radioactivity is delivered inside the body, so more dangerous. Uranium ore emits Alpha particle that are stopped by clothes or even a piece of paper (but contaminating them) and therefore is easily protected against (provided you don’t lick or eat the thing…)

Don’t forget that solids can be inhaled, too, if they’re a fine dust. A lump of uranium ore might be safe, but not so much if it’s smashed with a hammer, or ground down with mining tools.

Alpha particles are easily stopped by skin and clothing or even just the air, so outside your body, alpha emitters, and beta emitters , are relatively benign, but the problem comes if they get into your body, then all that energy is absorbed by your body.

The unit of radiation absorption is the Gray which is joules/kg of energy deposited in a body. There is the unit of biological damage or equivalent dose which is the Seivert, which is sort of normalized measurement of how bad it will be for you. To get from absorbed dose to equivalent dose you have multiply by the quality factor, which depends on the type of radiation. For gamma rays the quality factor is one, for neutrons it is about 4 ( depends on the energy range) for alpha particles it is 20.

So with radiation if you are dealing with spicy gamma ray or neutron sources , hopefully outside your body, it is all about time/distance/shielding to protect yourself , those funky looking hazmat suits don’t do anything.

When dealing with alpaha and beta emitters, it’s all about contamination,( ok you dont want gamma emitters spread around either) and keeping the stuff outside your body, hence the suits, showers, and most importantly , breathing protection. If it is particulates then good filters, if it is radon gas, then you would need self contained breathing.

But back to quality factor , if you do breath alpha emitters in , one joule per kg of absorbed dose is about 20x worse than one j per kg of gamma ray absorbed dose, but it is best to avoid either.

So a big drum or uranium ore is not going to present a hazard , but the dust in the mine will
As has been pointed out above ,uranium as a heavy metal isnt exactly a great thing to have in the body either, and any sort of dust in the lungs is also a bad idea, either through abrasion or clogging.

Also there is a practical view of the question. Maybe the uranium itself is not hazardous, but as its decay products will all be present as well , barring differences in solubility/mobility, they also have to be considered as well so yes uranium ore can be hazardous.

A page here shows some of the gamma ray emmison spectrums that go with the alpha /beta decay or uranium ores. Generally they are low energy gamma rays and so fairly easily stopped by clothing or the air, but as per alpha particles, if its inside you, all that energy gets absorbed by your body.

One final note, if you look at the decay chains they may only show alpha or beta emissions, as that is how you move from one element to another , however there are often gamma ray emmison that accompany the alpha beta emmisons as the nucleus loses energy to get settled into a less energetic state that may not be indicated on the decay chain. A pure gamma ray emmison from a nucleus wont change the element and are generally the nucleus moving from a meta stable state to a lower energy state. And as always , as we are dealing with mother nature, there is probably an exception to all of that somewhere.