What are the potential health risks from conversion of depleted uranium hexafluoride to other forms?
Accidental release of UF6 during processing activities could 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.
Conversion of uranium hexafluoride to oxide or metal may involve hazardous chemicals in addition to UF6; specifically, ammonia (NH3) may be used in the process, and HF may be produced from the process. In the PEIS, the conversion accidents estimated to have the largest potential consequences were accidents involving the rupture of tanks containing either anhydrous HF or ammonia. Such an accident could be caused by a large earthquake. The probability of large earthquakes depends on the location of the facility, and the probability of damage depends on the structural characteristics of the buildings. In the PEIS, the estimated frequency of this type of accident was less than once in one million years. However, if such an extremely unlikely accident did occur, it was estimated that up to 41,000 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). Of these, up to 1,700 individuals might experience irreversible adverse effects (such as lung damage or kidney damage), with the potential for about 30 fatalities. In addition, irreversible or fatal effects among workers very near the accident scene would be possible. (Note: The actual numbers of injuries among the general public would depend on the size and proximity of the population around the conversion facility).
(For more details on risks from conversion, see also Appendix F of the PEIS.)
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