Metropolis gears up for restart

21 June 2013

Honeywell is restarting front-end operations at its Metropolis uranium conversion plant in Illinois. Permission from the nuclear regulator to resume full operation is expected next month.

Honeywell was informed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on 19 June that it would be able to conduct limited licensed operations at Metropolis, which has been offline for over a year due to maintenance and safety upgrades.

"I am hopeful that I can announce our full production restart in the very near future"

Larry Smith,
plant manager

The company has now begun restarting the plant's front-end operations, including ore preparation work and production of solid uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), also known as "green salt." Ore preparation involves the blending, agglomerating, drying and crushing of ore concentrates to produce prepared feed. Green salt - an intermediate in the conversion of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) - is then produced through the hydrofluorination
of this prepared feed.

However, Honeywell must await NRC permission to resume other licensed operations at Metropolis. The regulator has said, "The remaining processes at the facility are being evaluated by NRC staff and will stay in a shutdown status until that review is completed and restart is authorized."

Metropolis plant manager Larry Smith said, "We anticipate that the NRC will complete their reviews and issue a restart decision in early July. In the meantime, our upgrade work has been completed, and we need to be ready to move forward as soon as we get the green light. I am hopeful that I can announce our full production restart in the very near future."

In common with all US nuclear facilities, the Metropolis plant was subjected to a post-Fukushima safety review by the NRC to examine its readiness for extreme external events such powerful earthquakes or tornados. This process uncovered some areas for improvement not identified in previous regular NRC checks of the chemical plant's operation.

These inspections took place during the plant's annual maintenance outage, which began in May 2012. Honeywell committed to keep Metropolis offline until the NRC's requirements were met.

Honeywell recently completed the necessary upgrades at Metropolis, which included seismic hardening of buildings and piping at the facility. They also upgraded its emergency planning and notification procedures, as required by the NRC.

Built in the 1950s, the Metropolisplant has undergone various upgrades and expansions over the decades to reach a nameplate capacity of 15,000 tonnes of UF6 per year. Metropolis - the only uranium conversion facility in the USA - is operated by Converdyn on behalf of its two 50% owners, Honeywell and General Atomics.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News