CHICAGO– The Honeywell Metropolis Works facility in Metropolis, Illinois has reported another leak of Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6), a radioactive and toxic chemical compound, produced at the facility which converts uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride for the production of nuclear fuel for nuclear power facilities. The incident occurred on Sunday, Oct. 26th at about 8 p.m., and lasted through the night
While company spokes people report no Uranium Hexafluoride was released outside the facility residents in the area have reported detecting an unusual odor and taste. Reports of a vapor plume over the facility were explained as water vapor from the suppression system but on a radio interview, John Paul Smith, United Steel Workers Local 7-669 Media Secretary and Health and Safety Chair, claims a vapor release of 6 minutes was observed before the suppression system’s mitigation towers were turned on. [NOTE: see video clip, link at end of article].
Union workers, who are currently locked out of the facility, maintain that while an equipment malfunction may have occurred, the response would have been different had they been present. Union workers have decades of experience responding to emergencies.
“The nature of what the facility does is inherently dangerous no matter who works there,” points out Gail Snyder, Board president of Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), an Illinois nuclear watchdog organization. “While the union person says they would have had a better response to an emergency due to their experienced work force, they cannot guarantee that union workers will be able to contain every accident either.”
The leak occurred around 7:30pm on Sunday, October 26th and the company declared an all clear around 2:30am Monday, October 27th according to Keith E. Davis with the Metropolis/Massac County Emergency Management Agency.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Region Two, based out of Atlanta Georgia, regulates the Honeywell facility and has sent an inspector who is expected to be onsite on Tuesday, October 28th. Roger Hanah, Senior Public Affairs Officer based out of the NRC Region Two office said the NRC does not have an onsite inspector stationed at the Honeywell facility because it is not a facility that processes highly enriched Uranium.
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) has five monitoring stations outside the facility to detect Uranium Hexafluoride which are checked every Monday. Data collected from IEMA’s monitoring stations on Monday, October 27th will we be available in approximately four days by request through a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request. The IEMA monitoring stations purpose is mainly radiological and are set up to detect Uranium Hexafluoride. The stations do not detect Hydrofluoric Vapor, according to Kelly Horn of IEMA. Hydrofluoric Vapor can be produced when Uranium Hexafluoride is combined with water and can become Hydrofluoric Acid a toxic chemical if it comes in contact with people.
Local people have reported having a strange chemical taste in their mouth and smelling an unusual smell around the plant site. Comments to this effect appear linked to various YouTube postings pot up by local people.
In January of this year, Attorney General Lisa Madigan fined Honeywell $90,000 for three such dangerous releases. The Honeywell Metropolis Works facility received a notice of violation from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for failure to govern the use of and adherence to written procedures resulting in the release of uranium hexafluoride and exposure of five workers at the facility on two separate days in May of 2012. Honeywell has also been fined $11.3 million for a felony offense of illegal storage of hazardous waste as well as $119,000 fine by Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) for 17 serious safety violations.
“This incident shows that if you want nuclear power, you can’t just have nuclear power plants,” observes Dave Kraft, director of NEIS. “You have to take all the other facilities in the long chain of the nuclear fuel cycle too, or you can’t have the reactors. And, every step of the way, the question becomes not IF there will be a radioactive contamination incident, only WHEN, WHERE, and HOW BAD,” Kraft concludes.
“The Honeywell Metropolis Works (licensee) uranium conversion facility is located on a 1,100 acre site (60 acres within the fence line) near Metropolis, IL. The licensee is authorized to possess 150 million pounds of natural uranium ore and to convert this material to uranium hexafluoride (UF6). The uranium conversion process occurs in the Feed Materials Building (FMB).” Source: NRC Inspection Report
Video clip of the UF6 plume:
Press Release: Attorney General fines Honeywell
NRC Inspection Report and Notice of Violation
Honeywell pleads guilty to felony offense and is fined 11.3 million
OSHA fines Honeywell $119,000, 17 serious safety violations
Radio Interview of Union Representative