METROPOLIS — Honeywell’s Metropolis Works uranium conversion plant will keep its production shut down until it completes an evaulation into whether a series of upgrades is needed to safeguard against natural disasters.
If upgrades are done, that work could take 12 to 15 months, a company spokesman said.
The move means about half of the 332 employees could be laid off if the company works on the upgrades, according to a statement from Honeywell issued Wednesday.
Production delays and starting upgrades are responses to a recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission assessment of facilities in the wake of natural disasters, particularly the March 2011 incidents at Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan after an earthquake and tsunami.
Honeywell said it will not restart production in Metropolis until it reaches an agreement with NRC on specific necessary upgrades and project timelines.
“Honeywell takes its commitment to safety seriously,” plant manager Larry Smith said. “We are continuing to discuss the necessary upgrades with the NRC, and we hope to quickly establish a definitive timetable.”
The plant’s union, United Steelworkers Local 7-669, held a meeting Wednesday evening. Union spokesman John Paul Smith said union officials were not notified about the continued shutdown until they were contacted by news media Wednesday.
“We’re in a state of shock,” Smith said. “Nobody saw it coming.”
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He said by the time the union local learned about the continued shutdown, the NRC regional office was closed.
“We are upset at not being advised of what’s going on so we could help with the plan,” he said.
The union has been critical in recent weeks of Honeywell balking on reopening the plant.
The facility underwent a planned annual shutdown in May and was scheduled to restart production at some point this summer.
Wednesday’s announcement came a little more than a year after union employees and management finally agreed to a new contract that allowed workers back into the plant. Workers spent roughly a year locked out of the facility in 2010-2011 when Honeywell and the union could not reach an agreement.
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