No impact from spillages

06 October 2011

Separate spillages of nuclear materials at facilities in Belgium and the USA appear to have been without radiological impact, although personnel involved in both incidents are undergoing tests to confirm their degree of exposure.

One inspector from the International Atomic Energy Agency and another inspector from Euratom, as well as a worker were exposed to plutonium during an annual inspection of fissile material inventory at Belgian radioactive waste management company Belgoprocess. The trio were contaminated when a container with a small amount of plutonium in it fell to the floor. They were immediately taken to a specialised laboratory for decontamination and monitoring.

The effective doses of the three personnel are "very low", with committed doses over 50 years due to internal contamination well below statutory limits of 20 millisieverts, according to the Belgian Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC). Further tests to confirm the levels of internal contamination are being carried out.


The spillage had no consequences for the environment or the public, as no radioactivity was released outside the building. The incident has been rated at level 2 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES).

Meanwhile, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is carrying out a special inspection at Uranium One's Irigaray and Christensen Ranch in situ recovery uranium facilities in Wyoming after release of yellowcake - uranium oxide recovered from ore - inside the plant. According to the regulator, two operators who were working at the facility on 2 October noticed airborne yellowcake after an alarm sounded and the plant's yellowcake dryer automatically shut down. It appears that the yellowcake escaped when a seal on the dryer broke.

The dryer is housed inside a pressurized sealed room within a building, said the NRC, and there appeared to have been no major safety impacts or releases to the environment. The NRC inspection will determine whether the workers received any exposure to the yellowcake as well as reviewing the incident and making sure that the plant's licensed operator, Uranium One, takes appropriate corrective actions.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News