Uranium conversion facility to reopen

February 11, 2021, 3:03PMNuclear News

The Metropolis Works plant. Photo: Honeywell

Honeywell plans to resume production at its Metropolis Works uranium conversion facility in 2023 and will begin preparations for the restart this year, the company has announced. The plant is in Metropolis, Ill.

Honeywell, based in Charlotte, N.C., said in a February 9 statement that it plans to hire 160 full-time employees, as well as contractors, by the end of 2022, adding, “We’re proud to bring these jobs back to the Metropolis community to meet the needs of our customers.”

Idled in early 2018, the plant is the nation’s sole uranium conversion facility.

Fueling the economy: State and local government leaders in Illinois welcomed the news, including State Sen. Dale Fowler (R. Dist. 59). “I know that when the facility originally shut down, we lost dozens of well-paying jobs, and the community was hit hard,” Fowler said. “Now, after experiencing yet another major hit to our economy and workforce due to the COVID-19 crisis, it’s extremely encouraging that the facility is reopening and bringing much-needed job opportunities back to the area.”

Put on hold: Metropolis Works was idled following a November 2017 announcement from Honeywell. “The nuclear industry continues to experience significant challenges and is currently oversupplied with UF6 [uranium hexafluoride] worldwide,” the company stated at the time, pointing to an analysis by an energy consulting firm that found a 15 percent drop in global demand for nuclear fuel in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident. “As a result of this business outlook,” the statement continued, “Honeywell plans to temporarily idle production of UF6 at its Metropolis site while maintaining minimal operations to support a future restart should business conditions improve.”

A little history: Built in 1958 to produce UF6 for the U.S. government, Metropolis Works began selling the compound on the commercial market in 1968. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff documented its review of Honeywell’s February 2017 request for license renewal in an environmental assessment and a finding of no significant impact published in October 2019 and a final safety evaluation report published in December 2019. In March 2020, the NRC renewed the facility’s license for 40 years, allowing operations at the plant to 2060.

The work: The plant receives uranium ore concentrate from mills and in situ recovery facilities and converts it to UF6 gas. The gas is cooled to a liquid and drained into 14-ton storage and transport cylinders. As the UF6 continues to cool over the course of five days, it transitions from a liquid to a solid. The cylinder, with UF6 in a solid form, can then be transported to another facility for enrichment and fabrication into commercial power reactor fuel.

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