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Update — Dangerous Uranium Hexafluoride Leak Worse Than Initially Reported, Regulator Says via NEIS

CHICAGO– A more serious incident occurred at the Honeywell Uranium conversion facility in Metropolis, Illinois than was originally reported by the plant operators to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC Event Report states,
“DISCOVERY OF AFTER-THE-FACT EMERGENCY CONDITION – ALERT DECLARATION NOT MADE DURING EVENT INVOLVING URANIUM HEXAFLUORIDE LEAK After review of additional observations and other evidence not directly involved with the response, Honeywell has determined that the event should have been upgraded at 1942 [CDT] on 10/26/14, to an ‘Alert’ classification per our classification criteria.”

“Emergency response and public awareness to a hazardous release from Honeywell depends on the reliable, honest and timely reporting by Honeywell. No government agencies can detect in real time an ongoing release of radioactive Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) or toxic Hydrogen Fluoride (HF) at the facility,” stated Gail Snyder, Board President of Nuclear Energy Information Service, a nuclear power watchdog organization based in Chicago.

[…]
An updated NRC Event Report states “the NRC inspection found that Honeywell did not recognize that the HF (Hydrogen Fluoride) released from the FMB (Facilities Management Building) warranted an emergency classification of ALERT. “ As a result Honeywell did not notify the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at that time. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency which issues the site permit and regulates the process where the leak occurred was not notified of the incident until a few days after it happened.

Currently the production of Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) is shutdown at the facility while an internal investigation and corrective actions are evaluated and discussed with the NRC. In a confirmatory action letter resulting from an NRC emergency inspection, Honeywell is required to “review and revise [their] emergency preparedness procedures, if necessary, and conduct appropriate training to provide assurance that events can be classified correctly, and appropriate emergency response actions can be implemented.” From this wording it does not indicate if Honeywell’s failure to accurately understand and convey the seriousness of the incident was a failure of their Emergency Response Plan or insufficiently trained or inexperienced workers.

On-strike union workers have claimed that replacement workers are not well trained and do not have the experience to operate the facility as safely as union workers would.

[…]
The Honeywell facility does not have a ten-mile Emergency Planning Zone around it like nuclear energy facilities do which require some preparedness information be provided to the public on what to do in the event of an emergency. Joe Miller from Massac County’s Emergency Management department said, “the sirens that are activated offsite during an emergency may not always be heard by people who are inside a residence or building,” where other sounds from televisions, radios etc…may not allow them to hear the sirens. Emergency Management Director for the City of Metropolis, Keith Davis, who is also the director for the 911 service of the county, said that during an emergency Honeywell determines the severity and classification of an event as well as the action recommendations which are then directed to dispatch. Prompt public notification of an emergency can come in the form of sirens and reverse 911 calls or through the emergency alert system. The original reporting from Honeywell or its revised status of an “alert” would not have initiated public notifications. If the status was raised to a “Site Area Emergency” that would indicate the possible offsite release of Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) and/or Hydrogen Fluoride (HF) which would initiate public notifications.

On October 26, 2014 Honeywell reported a leak of Uranium Hexafluoride (UF6) claiming the leak was contained within the building, later admitting that the leak was not contained in the building and was released into the environment while still claiming it did not go offsite of the facility. A union worker on strike outside the facility filmed the plume coming out of the top of the building and drifting across the property before water suppression systems were activated. Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) states that their department’s radiation monitoring equipment stationed outside the facility’s fence boundary did not monitor anything unusual. The other dangerously toxic chemical, Hydrogen Fluoride Gas (HF), which could be a significant risk to the neighboring community is not monitored by IEMA.

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