NRC Spells Out Steps for Reopening Uranium Conversion Facility

The agency's Confirmatory Order tells Honeywell International, Inc. what it must do in order to resume operations at the Honeywell Metropolis Works facility in Metropolis, Ill., which has been shut down since May 9.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced it has issued a Confirmatory Order to Honeywell International, Inc. outlining actions the company must take before it can resume its uranium conversion operations at the Honeywell Metropolis Works facility in Metropolis, Ill., which has been shut down since May 9. The facility takes milled uranium and converts it into uranium hexafluoride gas, which is enriched at other facilities to make fuel for commercial power reactors.

Metropolis is located in far southern Illinois, on the Ohio River. It is about 365 miles from Chicago.

The plant cannot resume operations until the order's actions are fulfilled. "These measures ensure the continued safety of the people who work at Honeywell as well as those who live nearby. Their safety has been and will continue to be our primary objective," said Victor McCree, NRC's Region II administrator.

An inspection in May that examined how well the facility could withstand a major earthquake or tornado concluded there may be a higher risk to the public than originally assumed. "The inspection identified that process equipment in the facility lacks seismic restraints, support and bracing that would assure integrity during a significant seismic or wind event. Specifically, the amount of uranium hexafluoride that could be released into the environment should the process equipment be damaged by such an event could be significantly larger than assumed in the facility's Emergency Response Plan. The material that could be released poses more of a chemical hazard than a radiation hazard," according to NRC, which added there is no current safety concern or risk of a significant release, with the facility shut down. The agency said Honeywell's Emergency Response Plan, submitted in May 2005, did not identify accident sequences related to credible seismic and tornado events, and the facility's Integrated Safety Analysis Summary erroneously states, "the plant is designed to withstand [significant] earthquake[s] with no safety implications." But NRC also said partly because of Honeywell's cooperation and "stated commitment to protect workers and public safety," the agency decided to issue a Confirmatory Order instead of a Notice of Violation with possible civil penalties.

The company must to revise its Emergency Response Plan and its Integrated Safety Analysis so that both provide the safety bases for the facility's improved seismic and wind design. A copy of the Confirmatory Order is available at adams.nrc.gov/wba by using the number ML12289A800 or by contacting the Region II Office of Public Affairs.

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