Safety and Environmental Issues
About 95% of the depleted uranium produced till now is stored as uranium hexafluoride, (D)UF6, in steel cylinders in open air yards close to enrichment plants. Each cylinder contains up to 12.7 tonnes (or 14 US tons) of UF6. In the U.S. alone, 560,000 tonnes of depleted UF6 had accumulated by 1993. In 2005, 686,500 tonnes in 57,122 storage cylinders were located near Portsmouth, Ohio, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Paducah, Kentucky., The long-term storage of DUF6 presents environmental, health, and safety risks because of its chemical instability. When UF6 is exposed to moist air, it reacts with the water in the air and produces UO2F2 (uranyl fluoride) and HF (hydrogen fluoride), both of which are highly soluble and toxic. Storage cylinders must be regularly inspected for signs of corrosion and leaks. The estimated lifetime of the steel cylinders is measured in decades.
There have been several accidents involving uranium hexafluoride in the United States. The vulnerability of DUF6 storage cylinders to terrorist attack is apparently not the subject of public reports. However, the U.S. government has been converting DUF6 to solid uranium oxides for disposal. Disposing of the whole DUF6 inventory could cost anywhere from 15 to 450 million dollars.
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