Honeywell Metropolis Plant Manager Larry Smith said in a letter to employees released to media Monday the seismic upgrades occurring at the facility have seen “good progress,” and he wants to provide to the employees an update on the company’s efforts.
“As you know, these upgrades will ensure our facility can withstand a significant seismic event or tornado, as required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) under its post-Fukushima mandates for all U.S. nuclear-related facilities. Honeywell has made a significant investment in our plant to continue to serve our customers and preserve hundreds of good jobs in the Metropolis area,” said Smith.
According to Smith, work at the site is progressing well and “We remain on schedule to restart in June, assuming that we receive the NRC’s final approval of our upgrade work,” Smith wrote, going on to say the NRC has been involved with the company on a consistent basis, performing inspections and monitoring the work.
“We will continue to staff the plant using a phased approach, which will ensure an orderly restart process. As required, salaried jobs will be posted and hourly positions will be recalled under terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Based on our estimated June restart, we will complete staffing by mid-May to ensure that employees are trained and certified in advance of any production restart,” Smith explained.
According to Smith, the company is projecting that the total staffing at the time of restart will be comprised of approximately 135 salaried employees and 135 hourly employees.
“These initial staffing levels are lower than in the past, and they reflect current market demand and UF6 volumes required by our customers. In addition, our plant has been idle for a significant amount of time and we will need to re-establish ourselves as a reliable supplier for our current customers and to attract new customers. By achieving superior quality and delivery performance, we can put ourselves in position to grow our business,” Smith said.
On a related note, in a news release sent Monday, NRC announced it has scheduled a public meeting for Tuesday, April 23 at its headquarters in Rockville, Md., to discuss the review of a corrective action plan developed by Honeywell to modify its Metropolis Works plant to meet NRC requirements.
The NRC issued a Confirmatory Order to Honeywell in October 2012 outlining actions the company must take before it could resume its uranium conversion operations at the Metropolis facility. The NRC concluded, following an inspection in May 2012 that process equipment in the facility lacks seismic restraints, support and bracing needed to ensure integrity during a significant earthquake or tornado.
Specifically, the inspection determined that the amount of uranium hexafluoride that could be released into the environment should the process equipment be damaged by such an event could be significantly larger than previously assumed. The material that could be released poses more of a chemical hazard than a radiation hazard. There is no current safety concern since the facility has been shut down since May.
The meeting is scheduled to run from 3 to 5 p.m. eastern standard time in room O-7B4 at the NRC’s One White Flint North building located at 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Md. The public is invited to observe this meeting and will have the opportunity to communicate with the NRC staff after the business portion, but before the meeting is adjourned.
The NRC has set up a toll-free telephone bridge line for members of the public who are unable to attend in person - the conference line is 888-323-8904. The pass code is: 60232#.
The Honeywell plant takes milled uranium and converts it into uranium hexafluoride gas, which is then enriched at other facilities to make fuel for commercial power reactors.
USW Local 7-669 President Stephen Lech said the NRC public meeting is nothing unusual and he expects as the re-start begins, NRC officials will be a semi-permanent fixture observing the plant as it begins production.
According to Lech, he feels confident that once Honeywell’s start-up begins the company will be able to return to its former level of staffing. Lech said he expects all of the union members to return to work and alludes that in the future there may be a good possibility the company would hire more staff as it returns to full output.
As far as the talks between the company and union members on Monday, Lech said it was supposed to have been a “round table discussion” in the presence of a federal mediator to discuss joint training in the future.
However, one of the stipulations of the meeting was that there would be no expenses for union members. Lech said that the company would not allow for all of the union’s seven executive board members to be present. Lech said even though neither side got to discuss anything, it did not end on a bad note, because he emphasizes both parties plan to schedule a day and time for another meeting.