Leak at General Atomics-Owned Plant

From Associated Press

A chemical leak at a plant owned by a San Diego company forced the evacuation of a building at a uranium plant Friday, only two weeks after federal inspectors allowed it to resume operating, officials said.

No one was injured, and there was no danger of contamination, said Pam Bennett, spokeswoman for the Sequoyah Fuels Corp. processing plant. Cleanup will take about two days.

Sequoyah Fuels is owned by General Atomics of San Diego, which bought the plant from Oklahoma City-based Kerr-McGee Corp. in 1988.

Bennett said a worker spotted an unknown amount of depleted uranium tetrafluoride, or UF-6, leaking from a valve and sounded an evacuation. Four workers usually are in the building during a shift. UF-6 is a fog-like gas.

Joe Gilliland, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the chemical is only slightly radioactive.

"And I mean very slightly," he said. "The main consideration is handling. The limits that exist for how much you can get into your body are based on its toxicity, not its radioactivity."

The NRC shut down the plant, about 70 miles southeast of Tulsa, in October because of safety concerns. It allowed a phased restart April 16, after top-to-bottom inspections in December and March.

Bennett said NRC inspectors have been on site 24 hours during the restart, which takes about 30 days.

Production of depleted uranium tetrafluoride is one step in making solid depleted uranium, which is used in armor-piercing shells by the military.

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