The Hex Connection: Some Problems and Hazards Associated with the Transportation of Uranium Hexaflouride

The Hex ConnectionAbstract

This study examines a small part of the debate about the pros and cons of nuclear power and nuclear weapons: some problems and hazards associated with the transportation of uranium hexafluoride (UF6). Uranium hexafluoride, commonly referred to as "hex", is a chemical form of uranium used in the production of virtually all nuclear weapons and uranium metal ammunition, and in production of fuel for the vast majority of commercial nuclear power plants.

An attempt is made to answer the question, "Is the transport of UF6 dangerous?" This is done in a manner that translates and demystifies technical data on UF6 into information more easily understood by people without specialist training. At the same time, social, political, and environmental implications are pointed out.

Four major aspects of UF6 and its transport are analyzed:
1) UF6 in the nuclear industry,
2) physical and chemical properties of UF6,
3) UF6 cylinders, and
4) UF6 accidents.

The major conclusion is that the transportation of UF6 is dangerous, both because of what it is - a hazardous chemical and radioactive substance; and what it is a part of - the production process for nuclear reactor fuel, nuclear bombs, and uranium ammunition. It is documented that a release of UF6 in a populated area could have catastrophic consequences. Cylinders used to transport UF6 can leak or explode under common accident conditions. Release of only a tiny portion of a typical UF6 transport cylinder will result in quantities of uranium and hydrofluoric acid (HF) in the immediate vicinity far exceeding levels dangerous to health (both chemically and radiologically).

Despite the danger, the dominant belief within governments and the nuclear industry is that UF6 transport is safe. This belief, regrettably, is mainly based on two assumptions shown to be false. These assumptions are that UF6 does not present a significant radioactive hazard, and cylinders used to transport UF6 are built strong enough to survive accident conditions. It is noted, however, that deciding whether or not the transportation of UF6 is dangerous involves qualitative moral and ethical decisions as well as analysis of quantitative, technical data.

ISBN: 91-576-4440-3. 196 pp. Order from info@nonuclear.se.