Metropolis Plant shutdown pending nuclear safety upgrades

METROPOLIS, IL (KFVS) - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says the Honeywell Metropolis Works plant needs upgrades before it can reopen.

The Metropolis plant takes milled uranium and converts it into uranium hexafluoride gas which is then enriched at other facilities in order to make fuel for commercial power reactors. At present, regulators fear the plant could not safely withstand an earthquake or tornado.

An NRC press release states that in an inspection that examined how the Metropolis facility would fare in a disaster, inspectors concluded that a credible seismic event could result in a higher risk to the public.

The NRC says the inspection raised concerns that Honeywell may have underestimated the amount of uranium hexafluoride that could be released into the environment should certain equipment be damaged by such an event.

"Honeywell has committed to the NRC that it will not resume operations until these safety concerns have been resolved," said Victor McCree, the NRC's Region II Administrator. "Ensuring the safety of the people who live near the plant and the workers at the facility must be our primary objective."

Officials at Honeywell say structural upgrades will be made before operations can resume.

"Honeywell takes its commitment to safety seriously," said Larry Smith, plant manager for the Metropolis Works facility. "We are continuing to discuss the necessary plant upgrades with the NRC, and we hope to quickly establish a definitive timetable."

A statement from Honeywell says the required upgrades could take 12 to 15 months to complete. During that time the full-time workforce of 332 employees will be cut in half.

The Honeywell plant has been closed since may after inspectors found damaged equipment.

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