- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

METROPOLIS, Ill. (AP) - A southern Illinois uranium-conversion plant is undergoing a special inspection after a weekend leak of uranium hexafluoride, a gas used to produce enriched uranium for nuclear power plants, Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials said.

A valve installed during maintenance at the Honeywell plant in Metropolis began to leak just before 6 p.m. Saturday, triggering an emergency alert and activation of large water sprays, the NRC said in a news release. The leak was stopped almost two hours later; the company said nobody was injured and the leak did not leave the site.

Honeywell’s Metropolis plant, about 5 miles northwest of Paducah, Kentucky, is the only place in the U.S. that converts uranium ore to uranium hexafluoride, which can be toxic when exposed to moisture in the air.

The inspection, expected to take at least a week, will analyze events leading to the release and verify that it did stay within the plant boundaries, as well as examine company procedures and corrective actions, the NRC said. A report will be issued within 45 days after the inspection is completed.

A Honeywell spokesman says the company is cooperating fully and is committed to safety.

“The plant’s emergency equipment and response teams worked as designed to contain and stop the leak without injuries,” spokesman Peter Dalpe said in a news release.

The company also experienced a uranium hexafluoride leak last October, the (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan reported (https://bit.ly/1MKIM2G ). In December 2013, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan fined Honeywell $90,000 for three prior releases of another gas, hydrogen fluoride, which occurred in December 2008, December 2010 and October 2011.

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This story has been corrected to show that fines issued by the state in 2013 were for previous releases of hydrogen fluoride, not uranium hexafluoride.


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