ERWIN — Nuclear Fuel Services is thrilled that it has received a $209 million contract from the federal government to change 12 tons of highly enriched uranium into a low-enriched form.
This is the latest contract NFS has received to convert the uranium and comes as previous deals come closer to expiring. Spokeswoman Lauri Turpin said the new work should be completed in four years.
“Obviously, any time we can bring business into the community and provide a stable work environment for our employees, we’re happy,” Turpin said Wednesday. “It’s always a great thing to get more business.”
She said the contract will not result in any new employees. The work will be performed at the NFS plant, but some expertise and technical resources from Babcock & Wilcox, NFS’ parent corporation, will be available, Turpin said.
On Tuesday, the federal government awarded the contract to NFS, which will convert the uranium for use in commercial reactors. According to the Associated Press, the highly enriched uranium will come from surplus at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge.
Once NFS completes its work, the low-enriched form will be shipped to Westinghouse Electric Co.’s Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina, the AP said. It will be held in reserve for utilities contracting for reactor fuel frm a plutonium mixed-oxide processing plant being built at the Savannah River site.
Turpin said NFS is a subcontractor on this project for WesDyn.
NFS President Dave Kudsin said in an interview in February that the company was working on a bid for additional downblending work. Turpin said the contract NFS received Tuesday was the one to which Kudsin referred then.
While the focus for many people will be on jobs and the financial impact on the community, NFS also views this project in national security terms, Turpin said. By working on converting the uranium, NFS will be working with the National Nuclear Security Administration, which actually awarded the contract, on nonproliferation, she said.
NFS has been known primarily for its manufacturing of fuel for the Navy, but the company in recent years has become involved in the conversion of uranium forms, a process known as downblending.
“Downblending was not our only contract, but we’re glad to be able to continue with that work,” Turpin said.
The most well-known of these projects is the Blended Low Enriched Uranium project. In it, 23 tons of highly enriched uranium is converted to a lowenriched mix and sent eventually to Browns Ferry nuclear power plant in Alabama. NFS has partnered with Areva, which has a facility next door, on this project.
Turpin declined to disclose the exact ending date for that project for security reasons but said, “We are nearing the end of that cycle.” NFS received that contract in 2001.
In 2007, NFS received a contract from the U.S. Energy Department to convert 17.4 metric tons of highly enriched uranium to 290 metric tons of low-enriched uranium. That material also has been sent to Westinghouse’s plant in Columbia, S.C. Turpin said NFS is on schedule to be completed by the end of 2010.