Reports Differ on Injuries at Metropolis Nuclear Plant Following Leakage of Uranium Hexafluoride

Updated 4 years ago by Tony E. Rutherford, News Editor
UH6 Cylinder
UH6 Cylinder
File Photo

Conflicting reports have circulated among Metropolis, Illinois, residents concerning the Sunday, Oct. 26, uranium hexafluoride leak  at the Honeywell plant at about 7:35 p.m. Although a plant news release quickly stated that no injuries have been reported and the leak was contained to plant property, a resident  told HNN Thursday night, Oct. 30, of leaving the union hall "flabbergasted."

Union representatives are reporting that seven people north of the plume suffered burns and that another seven to ten at or near the EEI plant who had sheltered in place also suffered injuries. Union employees walking a picket line Sunday night distributed a video of the release; however, Honeywell claims it was spray used to contain leaks.

On the union's Facebook page, a posting provides media links for anyone injured to speak out. Local media  have been accused of taking the plant's word for it.

Whistleblowers and retired workers at other former nuclear materials plants (i.e. Portsmouth, Ohio, and Hanford, Washington) have alleged and /or produced copies of  contracts that provide significant financial incentives to Department of Energy contractors who have injury free records and have no emissions that drift beyond the plant property.

Another source indicated that about a month ago, three workers were hurt inside the plant, but were told not to tell anyone about their injuries.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission investigators are at the Illinois plant  and have started an investigation. They will monitor recovery and clean up. According to the NRC, the plant has been shut down. (download attachment) Honeywell's initial assessments are that no emergency thresholds were exceeded. The incident classified as "other" was reported by the public.

College age replacement workers have been operating the plant during the latest union work stoppage. "They are students and interns training to be engineers," a resident said.

 

FORBES has explained that the main threat from UH6 is not radioactivity, but chemical toxicity.

 

“The carcinogenic hazard from radiation exposure is negligible compared with the chemical toxicity from acute inhalation exposure to UF6,” as uranium hexafluoride is commonly known, according to a 2004 report on the “Acute Exposure Guideline Levels for Selected Airborne Chemicals” prepared by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science.

When exposed to water vapor, UF6 breaks down into hydrofluoric acid (HF) and uranyl fluoride (UO2F2), both of which are highly toxic. UF6 emits alpha, beta and gamma radiation, but radiation damage has not been observed in people who have been exposed. Instead:

“At high concentrations, death from HF-induced pulmonary edema is observed. Severe ocular injury; skin burns; and ocular, mucous membrane, and respiratory irritation are also attributable to HF. Kidney damage attributable to UO2F2, was also suggested from urinalysis data.”

You can download as a PDF attachment, Acute Exposure Guideline levels for Selected Airborne Chemicals.

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