In what elected official are calling a “tremendous boost to Massac County and the entire region,” Honeywell announced Tuesday, Feb. 9, its intention to reopen the Metropolis Works plant, restarting production of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) in early 2023.
Preparations to the plant, that has been in “ready-idle” status since late 2017, will start immediately with the filling of approximately 25 full-time roles this year in addition to 30 contractor roles to support planning and readying the site for full production in early 2023. Honeywell will hire 160 full-time employees, as well as contractors, by the end of 2022.
“It is especially encouraging to hear this announcement after the difficult economic times we’ve experienced this past year with the pandemic and with the reports of other potential closures in the area,” said State Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis). “I was excited to hear the news that Honeywell’s Metropolis facility will be restarting production in early 2023. The addition of 160 full-time jobs will be a tremendous boost to Massac County and the entire region.”
In November 2017, Honeywell announced 170 of the Metropolis plant’s 200 full-time hourly and salaried employees were being reduced in the first quarter of 2018 because the nuclear industry at the time was oversupplied with UF6 worldwide and global demand for nuclear fuel had dropped 15%. At the time, demand was not anticipated to rise before 2020, therefore, Honeywell temporarily idled the plant’s UF6 production while maintaining minimal operations — retaining a local workforce of 23 Honeywell employees and 21 contractors — to support a future restart should business conditions improve.
In early 2020, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission renewed the operating license of the Metropolis uranium conversion plant for an additional 40 years with the new license to expire on March 24, 2060.
“Over the past decade, Honeywell has invested $166 million at the Metropolis plant in capital improvements, including $69 million in safety projects,” said Mike Hockey, Honeywell’s director of external communications. “This allowed the plant to meet tougher earthquake and tornado safety standards (put in place following the Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011) and keep good paying jobs in the area. It also means that as we ramp up to restart, Metropolis will meet all applicable safety standards and risk management practices and will be ready to get back to work.
“As the only domestic uranium conversion facility, Honeywell’s Metropolis Works facility has been an important national strategic asset, well-positioned to satisfy UF6 demand both in the U.S. and abroad,” Hockey continued. “We’re proud to bring these jobs back to the Metropolis community to meet the needs of our customers.”
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Mary Miller (R-Charleston), who represents
Illinois’ 15th Congressional District, said that “as (Metropolis is) home to the sole uranium conversion plant in the United States, this announcement is great news for Massac County and our nation. The reinvestment into Illinois’ natural resources is a great step forward in economic recovery.”
State Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) said the reopening will also help boost the economy and create much-needed job opportunities in southern Illinois.
“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-need job opportunities back to the area.”
Honeywell Metropolis Works originally opened as Allied Chemical in December 1958 after the the Atomic Energy Commission, in October 1955, permitted industries to enter the UF6 conversion business by inviting contract bids for the conversion of government-owned uranium ore concentrates. Ground at the 900-acre site located a mile north of Metropolis was broken in August 1957. In 1985, Allied merged with Signal Companies, becoming Allied-Signal, Inc. In 1999, Honeywell was acquired by AlliedSignal, which elected to retain the Honeywell name for its brand recognition.
“This is exciting news for Massac County,” said county commissioner Jayson Farmer. “We’re looking forward to Honeywell starting up production. Honeywell’s always had a great partnership with the community.”
Metropolis Mayor Billy McDaniel was notified of the news Tuesday morning from the company’s government relations representative in Washington, D.C.
“After a year of devastation due to COVID and the downturn of the economic situation of the community, I think it’s a great thing,” McDaniel said. “I think there’s a lot of positive — they intend to do some hiring immediately and then be in full operation by 2023 with 160 full-time, well-paying jobs. It will put a great economic boost back into our community.”