Honeywell unit probed in toxic gas leak in Illinois

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 04, 2015 10:30 AM

(Reuters) - The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it has begun a special inspection at Honeywell Metropolis Works in Illinois to assess a uranium hexafluoride leak that occurred during maintenance activity on Saturday evening.

No one at the facility was injured, and the company reported that no uranium hexafluoride was released past the site boundary, the commission said in a statement on Monday.

Uranium hexafluoride is a toxic gas and is usually stored in large canisters.

Honeywell officials indicated the leak was on the sixth floor of the plant’s feed materials building, the NRC said. Monitoring devices located at the site boundaries detected no radiological release beyond regulatory limits.

The special inspection will look at the sequence of events leading up to the release, verify the company followed its procedures for mitigating the release and notifying local and state agencies.

Honeywell Metropolis Works is the only U.S. facility that converts uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride, an essential compound used to produce enriched uranium as fuel in nuclear power plants, according to the company's website.

The primary risks associated with uranium conversion are chemical and radiological, according to the NRC's website.

"Honeywell takes this incident seriously and is cooperating fully with the NRC inspection," a company spokesman said in an email on Tuesday.

The company, a unit of Honeywell International Inc, alerted the NRC and other regulatory agencies promptly and the plant’s emergency equipment and response teams worked as designed to contain and stop the leak without injuries, he added.

(Reporting by Nallur Sethuraman in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jeffrey Benkoe)