Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Detailed Cleanup Process to Be Required at Kerr-Mcgee Plant / Says NRC Spokesman

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Detailed Cleanup Process to Be Required at Kerr-Mcgee Plant / Says NRC Spokesman

Article excerpt

WEBBERS FALLS, Okla. - A detailed and labor-intensive cleanup of Kerr-McGee Corp.'s uranium processing plant near Gore, Okla., will be required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Donna McFarland, company spokesman, said Monday.

Radioactive particles of uranium, released when nearly 15-tons of uranium hexafluoride gas reacted with moisture in the air fell in a small area around the plant and a short distance to the south, NRC spokesman Clyde Wisner said at the scene Monday.

The heavier-than-air particles settled on nearly all surfaces at the plant,including buildings, fences and grass, said McFarland, with Oklahoma City-based Kerr-McGee.

The entire site will have to be cleaned and decontaminated thoroughly, she said.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission team supervised removal of topsoil and scrubbing of roads Monday to remove particles of uranium.

The accident occured while Kerr-McGee seeks a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to expand its uranium conversion operations on the site.

The Sequoyah Fuels Corp. plant converts Yellow Cake, uranium ore with from which impurities have been removed, into uranium hexafluoride through a chemical solvent extraction process.

The product is then processed at an enrichment plant by removing the isotobe U-235 through gaseous dispersion. Kerr-McGee is seeking to a license to further process the remaining isotobes U-234 and238

The process would take the depleted uranium hexafluoride through a dry chemical process for shipment to another firm to make uranium metal, McFarland said. Uranium metal is 1 1/2 times as heavy as lead. It is used in jet aircraft, shielding for x-ray equipment and for armor piercing munitions.

Workers wearing protective clothing and breathing apparatus removed some topsoil on plant property for disposal, Wisner said, and asphalt surfaces, including Oklahoma 10 next to the plant, got a ""good old-fashioned scrubbing.''

One employee of a Kerr-McGee Corp. uranium processing plant died from breathing highly corrosive hydrofluoric acid generated by the leak, which spread a vapor cloud up to 18 miles from the plant inrural eastern Oklahoma. More than 100 people were examined, and five remained hospitalized Monday.

""These radiation levels are very low,'' Wisner said. ""The philosophy is that you don't want radioactive materials where they're not supposed to be.''

The leak occurred Saturday morning after workers accidentally overfilled a shipping tank with uranium hexafluoride produced at the plant. The material is shipped to other plants to be refined and made into fuel for nuclear reactors.

McFarland said the plant has filled 650 of the large cylinders a year since it began operating in 1970.

The cylinder ruptured while it was being heated by employees attempting to reduce its contents from 29,500 pounds to its rated capacity of 27,500 pounds, said Dick Bangart, head of the NRC team at the site. …

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