What are the potential health risks from continued storage of uranium hexafluoride?
Continued storage requires only minimal handling of UF6 cylinders, mainly periodic painting of the cylinders. Under normal operating conditions, the main risk is to workers from low-level external radiation exposure from the cylinders. The radiation exposures of the workers are carefully monitored and limited to stay well under applicable guidelines and regulations.
Accidental release of UF6 can result in injuries. The most immediate hazard from a release would be lung injury or death from inhalation of hydrogen fluoride (HF), a highly corrosive gas formed when UF6 reacts with moisture in air. Uranyl fluoride is also formed. Uranyl fluoride is a particulate that can be dispersed in air and inhaled. Once inhaled, uranyl fluoride is easily absorbed into the bloodstream because it is soluble. If large quantities are inhaled, kidney toxicity will result.
In the PEIS, the hypothetical accident estimated to have the largest potential consequences during continued storage was a fire involving the rupture of three full cylinders. Such a fire could be caused by a vehicle accident in the storage yards, where the impact and fuel from the vehicle caused the large fire. In the PEIS, the frequency of this type of accident was estimated to be about once in 100,000 years. If such an extremely unlikely accident did occur, it was estimated that up to 1,900 members of the general public around the conversion facility might experience adverse effects from chemical exposures (mostly mild and temporary effects, such as respiratory irritation or temporary decrease in kidney function). However, of these only about 1 individual might experience irreversible adverse effects (such as lung damage or kidney damage), with no fatalities expected. In addition, irreversible or fatal effects among workers very near the accident scene would be possible.
(For more details on risks from continued storage, see also Appendix D of the PEIS.)
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