A team led by BNFL Inc, the US subsidiary of British Nuclear Fuels plc, has won a huge nuclear cleanup contract from the US Department of Energy worth up to $6.9 billion.

The 20-year deal involves removing radioactivity from 54 million gallons of wastes stored at Hanford, the DOE site, near Richland, Washington. The two part contract will result in the treatment of about 10% of the waste, equal to 20% to 25% of the radioactivity, by 2018.

“It is the largest single nuclear cleanup project in the United States and probably the world,” a BNFL spokesman said. The deal consolidates BNFL’s position in the US market and underlines the company’s efforts to ensure it is a major international player on the nuclear stage.

“We are confident the overall approach is the right one and will protect the environment by converting liquid radioactive waste into a stable glass form for ultimate disposal,” said Thomas Crimmins, President and CEO, BNFL Inc.

BNFL submitted its proposal more than five months ago. The final contract and authorisation to proceed with the project is expected after a 30-day review by Congress.

Under the deal, BNFL will work in partnership with Bechtel National Inc., BNFL Engineering Ltd, GTS Duratek and SAIC (Science Applications International Corp).

The project will proceed in two parts. The first part will involve private finance closure, regulatory permit applications, readiness to begin construction, final fixed-unit prices for treated waste and the establishment of a firm schedule. This will take 24 months.

The second phase, likely to start in 2000, will involve the construction of facilities and the actual treatment process.

BNFL said the deal was the result of lengthy negotiations built on a long-standing relationship with the DOE. BNFL Inc already had a healthy $2.5 billion order book prior to the deal. The deal also follows BNFL’s 40% stake in the $1.2 billion acquisition of Westinghouse nuclear from CBS Corp.