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Fumes At Nuclear Processing Plant No Laughing Matter

Wed, 10/21/2009 - 6:20am

ERWIN, Tenn. (AP) — Federal inspectors have been dispatched to the Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. plant in Erwin after higher than expected levels of heated nitrous oxide fumes damaged pipes last week while processing radioactive scrap metal for the Department of Energy.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Joey Ledford said Monday that no fumes escaped the plant and no employees were injured in the Oct. 13 incident, but processing DOE metals containing low levels of uranium has been idled.

Nitrous oxide is a chemical compound that can be used as a dental anesthetic commonly known as "laughing gas" or a major horsepower booster in gasoline engines.

The 793-employee NFS plant, owned by Lynchburg, Va.-based Babcock & Wilcox Co., was investigated by the NRC as recently as March over problems with the plant's protected enclosures for handling uranium solution.

Babcock & Wilcox is a subsidiary of McDermott International Inc.

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