Uranium hexafluoride releases at Honeywell Metropolis Works, May 2012. Part 1.
I came across this document while researching the radiological and health effects of uranium:
Mr. Larry Smith
Honeywell Metropolis Works
P.O. Box 430
Metropolis, IL 62960
SUBJECT: NRC INSPECTION REPORT NO. 40-3392/2012-003 AND NOTICE OF VIOLATION
Dear Mr. Smith:
This letter refers to the inspections conducted from April 1, 2012 through June 30, 2012, at the Honeywell Metropolis Works facility. The purpose of the inspections was to determine whether activities authorized under the license were conducted safely and in accordance with NRC requirements. The enclosed report presents the results of these inspections. On May 3, 2012, May 25, 2012, and July 26, 2012, the findings were discussed with you and other members of your staff.
From the company website:
Metropolis Works is the only facility in the country that converts uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride (UF6). UF6 is an essential compound used to produce enriched uranium for use as fuel in nuclear power plants, which provide about 19 percent of America’s electricity. Metropolis Works is part of the Fluorine Products business within Honeywell Performance Materials and Technologies. (link)
Honeywell Uranium Hexafluoride Processing Facility, a uranium conversion facility, is located 3 km northwest of Metropolis, Illinois. The plant, Honeywell Specialty Chemicals in Metropolis, Illinois, has a nominal capacity of 15,000 tU uranium per year. The plant manufactures a variety of products, but about 80 percent of the plant’s work involves refining raw uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride. Across the Ohio river in Paducah, Kentucky, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, can enrich the uranium hexafluoride into various levels for nuclear power or nuclear weapon purposes. (link)
So this plant is located near the southern tip of Illinois, across the Ohio River from the USEC uranium enrichment plant. Honeywell converts raw yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride. It is then shipped across the river, where the USEC plant utilizes the UF6 in enriching uranium for nuclear power plant fuel. Apparently there is also a role in the production of nuclear weapons.
It is the only facility of its kind in the United States.
URANIUM HEXAFLUORIDE RELEASES
On May 14, 2012, and again on May 30, 2012, there were accidental releases of uranium hexafluoride from this plant. According to the NRC document:
On May 14, 2012, the inspectors conducted an on-site inspection following a release of UF 6 during the preparation of a 48Y cylinder (Cylinder AC-123) for washing. The inspectors determined that in preparation for visual inspection of the internal surface, cylinder washing is normally performed by yard workers. At the time the release occurred, a salaried employee was performing the operation in accordance with the licensee’s procedure for washing UF6 cylinders. While preparing a cylinder for washing, the cylinder wash operator accidentally damaged the valve on the cylinder. The operator continued to prepare the cylinder for washing and while disconnecting the cylinder drain plug to insert a specialized wash adapter on the cylinder, released residual UF6 from the cylinder. From review of the procedure, the inspectors determined that the operator did not adhere to the written requirements of the procedure…
On May 30, 2012, operators were preparing a work site to make a line break to change out a pressure indicator on the auto sampler. The operators were establishing a second vacuum source using a Kinney pump on the first floor in distillation. The operators lined up the vacuum to the auto sampler, through the secondary sample cold trap using the Kinney pump on the first floor. The plant was in an annual shutdown and the cooling system for the cold traps was being serviced. Because the plant was shutdown, the cold traps were at ambient temperature, approximately 109 degrees Fahrenheit. When the operators started the Kinney pump and pulled a vacuum on the cold trap, it caused the UF6 in the cold trap to sublime releasing UF6. Approximately 21 pounds of UF6 was released exposing five operators who were treated at the dispensary with calcium gluconate and later released to return to work.
The graphic above, showing an atmospheric plume from the May 30 release, is from the web version of the HYSPLIT atmspheric dispersion model. I live in Maryland, near Baltimore.
URANYL FLUORIDE AND HYDROFLUORIC ACID
UF6 is vary dangerous. When it mixes with water vapor from the air, it is split into uranyl fluoride and hydrofluoric acid, both of which are very toxic. This document referred to a UF6 release in Oklahoma in 1986:
When UF6 is released into the atmosphere, it reacts with the moisture in theatmosphere to form uranyl fluoride (UO2F2) and hydrofluoric acid (HF)… The HF is a corrosive and irritating acid vapor that can severely harm the lungs and skin if exposed in sufficient concentration. The UO2F2 forms a particulate, which is very soluble in the lungs, and can be carried away by the wind and deposited onto the ground. As the released material was dispersed, an individual offsite could have been exposed to the plume carrying these chemicals. The plume, where it was highly concentrated, was visible and could be immediately irritating to the lungs. The immediate effects from the exposure of these chemicals are edema of the lungs, skin irritation from exposure to HF, and renal distress due to heavy metal (uranium) intake…
UO2F2 is a soluble form of uranium. Thus, the predominant target organ for the acute uranium intake as a result of this release is the kidney, and the toxicity is primarily chemical rather than radiological. When the UO2F2 particulates eventually deposit on the ground, the chronic effects from the intake of uranium through various pathways are from chemical toxicity as well as radioactivity.
Uranyl fluoride is corrosive, as well as hydrofluoric acid. Uranium (-238) is considered to be weakly radioactive. But it is an alpha emitter, and accumulates in the skeleton. It keeps accumulating for up to three years after exposure. Therefore, long-term effects from radiological toxicity can be expected, as well as short-term chemical toxicity.
Uranyl fluoride is also a neutron emitter. The neutrons come from the action of alpha particles on fluoride. (link) Since uranium is a weak alpha emitter, uranyl fluoride is also a weak neutron emitter. But, since neutron radiation causes chemicals in cells to become radioactive, the bone marrow turned radioactive from the uranium in the bones could cause bone cancer, leukemia, and immune system damage in the long run.
HEALTH ISSUES IN MAY-JUNE, 2012
I want to turn back to shortly before I started this blog. Around May 2, 2012, two radiation monitors in Colorado, close to each other, both suddenly registered readings thousands of times above background, at the same time. A day later, I got that familiar tingly feeling on my tongue.
A few days later, I suddenly found myself browsing Enenews. Two days had passed… I had no memory of those two days. Amnesia. Certainly the most bizarre symptom I have had since Fuku. I also had the overwhelming metal taste in my mouth, and I had flu symptoms for a few days. I attributed it to Fukushima, which was going nuts with radiation releases at the time.
I started this blog on May 18. Shortly after, more symptoms started appearing. Bumps on my abdomen, not really psoriasis that I am used to. My left eye started bulging out… I developed a pituitary tumor in January 2012, that caused my right eye to bulge out, and caused loss of vision in that eye. Now it started to appear in the left eye. Things were getting really bad.
Around May 31 and June 1, the symptoms started to increase again. I developed nystagmus, loss of coordination in my legs, arthritis was suddenly out of control. I would get bruises from bumping into walls. Warts started popping out on my skin. I got one on the tip of my nose. The plantar wart on my left foot is still there. Plus cold sores, teeth started loosening. I developed horrible proteinuria (a kidney condition), and the level of bubbles in my urine led me to think kidney dialysis was immediately called for. And about a week later, inverse psoriasis suddenly grew and covered my skin from the hips down to the feet. I am still struggling with this condition, but it is not nearly as bad now.
This was the time when I made this post:
There are too many symptoms to count. There is something wrong with my back, there is something wrong with my neck, there is something wrong with my chest, there is something wrong with my lungs, there is something wrong with my scalp, there is something wrong with my colon, there is something wrong with my kidneys, there is something wrong with my thyroid, there is something wrong with my eyes, there is something wrong with my teeth, there is something wrong with my gums, there is something wrong with my feet, there is something wrong with my bladder, there is something wrong with my fingernails, there is something wrong with my skin. I am racked with pain from head to toe. I can’t move a muscle without my body telling me there is something wrong somewhere.
I looked up videos and testimony from soldiers that were exposed to depleted uranium in the middle east. They had virtually identical symptoms as I had, kidney and skin problems, and cognitive problems, including amnesia. I attributed it to uranium poisoning from a plume from Japan, containing Fukushima radionuclides and uranium from an explosion at a Japanese chemical plant.
Now, with this new information at hand, I believe that the round of symptoms in early May were caused by a plume from Japan. The later escalation of symptoms could better be explained from the uranium hexafluoride release from Honeywell Metropolis Works on May 14, and especially the one on May 30.
There is the kidney damage from soluble uranyl fluoride, and the skin damage triggered from hydrofluoric acid. Plus a host of other things. The release was stated to be 21 pounds in the NRC document. I believe it was much more. The 1986 Oklahoma incident involved 29,000 pounds.
HIGH RADIATION READINGS IN THE PLUME AREA
Potrblog noted elevated radiation readings in his blog around this time. St. Louis is in the affected area:
!MAXIMUM ALERT! AIRBORNE RADIOACTIVITY 5 TIMES GREATER THAN BACKGROUND RADIATION in Saint Louis @ 4:39 pm 6/4/12
We noticed elevated AIRBORNE radioactivity after a super cell thunder storm moved near our location. The heaviest part of the storm had passed approximately 15 minutes prior to the readings you will see in the video.
These are the highest airborne radioactivity readings we have ever measured in Saint Louis.
There was also a high radiation event in South Bend, Indiana around this time. This is also in the affected area. It is possible that these radiation anomalies were from Fukushima, but they could also have come from Honeywell, or both. It is hard to know. But it cannot be said that there weren’t elevated readings at that time.
The mysterious and strange things that went on at the Honeywell plant, the NRC, and the background politics of the issue will be described in Part 2 of this post.
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