The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on March 24 relicensed the only uranium conversion plant in the United States, Honeywell International’s Metropolis Works.
Metropolis Works can now operate until March 24, 2060, potentially logging operations for over a century. Built in 1958 to produce uranium hexafluoride (UF6) for the U.S. government, Metropolis Works began selling UF6 on the commercial market in 1968.
The details:The plant’s source materials license has been renewed for 40 more years, with an authorized capacity of 15,000 metric tons. The previous license renewal granted to Metropolis Works was issued in 2007 for a 10-year term. The NRC staff documented its review of Honeywell’s February 2017 request for a 40-year license renewal in an environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact published in October 2019 and a final safety evaluation report published in December 2019. The staff also considered alternatives, including renewing the license for a shorter term (NN, Dec. 2019, p. 49).
The process: The plant in Metropolis, Ill., receives uranium ore concentrate from mills and in situ recovery facilities and converts it to gas. The gas is cooled to a liquid and drained into 14-ton storage and transport cylinders. As the UF6continues to cool over the course of five days, it transitions from a liquid to a solid. The cylinder, with UF6in a solid form, can then be transported to another facility forenrichmentand fabrication into commercial power reactor fuel.
What happens now: Metropolis Works curtailed operations in late 2017, citing market conditions, and entered a “ready-idle” status with a reduced amount of material on-site. The fully licensed and operational plant is expected to remain idle until demand for its services increases. The Trump administration’s Nuclear Fuel Working Group has been charged with addressing near-term challenges to the domestic uranium mining and conversion industry, and help could be on the way in the form of a $150-million fiscal year 2021 budget proposal for a U.S. uranium reserve (NN, Mar. 2020, p. 74).