What are the potential health risks from transportation of uranium hexafluoride?
In the future, it is possible that uranium hexafluoride will be transported to a conversion facility. For example, it is currently anticipated that the depleted uranium hexafluoride cylinders at the ETTP Site in Oak Ridge will be transported to the Portsmouth Site for conversion. All transportation is associated with some potential health risk; namely, adverse health effects from inhalation of vehicle exhausts, and risk of injury or death associated with physical trauma from vehicle accidents. Statistically, these risks depend on the distance traveled and not on the type of cargo being transported.
In addition to the above risks, the transport of uranium hexafluoride will result in low-level external exposure to radiation for persons in the vicinity of a shipment. Based on estimates in the PEIS, the levels of exposure would result in negligible increased cancer risks.
If a transportation accident involving release of UF6 from cylinders occurred, potential health risks would be associated with inhalation of HF and uranyl fluoride generated from the reaction of UF6 with moisture in the air. At high exposure levels, inhalation of the corrosive gas HF can cause death, and the uranyl fluoride could cause kidney damage. The most serious hypothetical transportation accident modeled in the PEIS involved a rail shipment through an urban area with release of contents from four cylinders. The estimated frequency of such an accident was about once in 250,000 years. If such an accident did occur, it was estimated that exposures of workers and the general public would result in 4 cases of irreversible adverse chemical effects, but no immediate deaths. Also, over the long-term, approximately 60 latent cancer fatalities could occur from radiation exposures, in addition to those occurring from all other causes. (In the population of 3 million assumed to be exposed, 700,000 would be expected to die of cancer from all causes.) Historically, no transportation accidents involving a release of UF6 have occurred.
(For more details on risks from transportation of UF6, see also Section 5.2 and Appendix J of the PEIS.)
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