What are the potential health risks from storage of depleted uranium as an oxide?
Once depleted uranium has been converted from UF6 to the oxide form, the risk associated with storage and handling is greatly decreased, because the corrosive fluorine component has been removed, and because the oxide form is not reactive. Under normal operating conditions at a storage facility, there would be a small increase in cancer risk for workers due to exposure to external radiation from the uranium oxide; however, good work practices would minimize the exposure and the risk. Even under extreme accident conditions, such as if a storage facility building were damaged in an earthquake, the risk of immediate chemical injury to the general public and to workers from exposure to released uranium oxide would be very small. Because uranium oxide is insoluble, amounts inhaled would reside in the lungs for a long period of time, so increased cancer risk from radiation would be the predominant risk from oxide exposure. The most serious accident for an oxide storage facility modeled in the PEIS was an earthquake damaging a repackaging building. 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 once 100,000 years. However, if such an extremely unlikely accident did occur, about 33 pounds of oxide could be released to the atmosphere, resulting in an increased cancer risk of 0.003 (1 chance in 300) to the most exposed individual.
(For more details on risks from storage, see also Appendix G of the PEIS.)
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