Note: This story was last updated at 11 a.m.
Normal operations have resumed, and no injuries were reported after sensors indicated a potential release of hydrogen fluoride inside a processing enclosure within the main processing building at the Y-12 National Security Complex on Thursday morning.
The emergency incident was reported at 7:52 a.m. Thursday. The situation was reported to be under control within about an hour, just after 9 a.m. Emergency operations were terminated at 10:15 a.m.
Two sensors had indicated a potential release of hydrogen fluoride gas, said JoEddy Moore of Consolidated Nuclear Security LLC, which manages and operates Y-12 for the National Nuclear Security Administration. The concentration was in the range of parts per million.
Employees in the buildings in and around the 9212 processing complex were evacuated to other buildings in the production area on the west side of Y-12.
The source of the leak has not been identified, and the amount of gas released won’t be known until an investigation is complete. The hydrogen fluoride is a liquid in a small storage vessel, but it is released as a gas under atmospheric conditions.
Hydrogen fluoride is highly corrosive and very acidic. It can irritate a person’s nose and throat and cause breathing difficulties.
The leak was reported in an enclosure that is about the size of a walk-in closet in a large room, Moore said. Sensors in the open area surrounding the enclosure showed no additional level of hydrogen fluoride, she said.
Equipment known as a scrubber fully neutralizes the parts-per-million concentration of hydrogen fluoride gas, Moore said. Y-12 said the enclosure’s scrubber system worked as designed to reduce the hydrogen fluoride levels within the enclosure.
“There are no airborne emissions issues whatsoever,” Moore said.
Johnafred Thomas of CNS said the hydrogen fluoride gas activity is one of many production activities in the building where the leak occurred. The system is designed for leaks, and Y-12 responds appropriately when leaks occur, Thomas said. And employees train for that, he said.
Y-12 personnel were not able to say what impact the hydrogen fluoride gas might have on production. The plant manufactures components for nuclear weapons, and there are limits on the information that can be publicly released. But the production operations are batch operations, meaning manufacturing can move from operation A to operation B, etc. Hydrogen fluoride is used in production during normal operations.
Gene Patterson of CNS said the emergency response process worked as intended during the incident at Y-12 on Thursday.
CNS and NNSA officials, including Patterson and Mary Helen Hitson, said there was never a threat to the community, and the public has no need to worry. The incident was contained within the enclosure, Hitson said.
Only employees in the immediate area of the incident were evacuated. Everyone else sheltered in place, Patterson said.
There was never any danger to personnel, Y-12 said. The plant said there was no indication of malevolence, and all nuclear materials were safe.
On-site monitoring found “no detectable hydrogen fluoride levels” outside the processing enclosure, Y-12 said.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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