Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS), a subsidiary of US-based BWX Technologies (BWXT) has been awarded a $428m Phase II contract by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to provide purification and conversion services for highly enriched uranium (HEU). NFS is one of only two Category I nuclear facilities licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to store and process HEU.

Under the five-year contract, NFS will establish a process line inside its facility in Erwin, Tennessee, before initiating conversion and purification operations. NFS previously completed a $57.5m Phase I contract that began in 2021 to design a process line and demonstrate that it could convert uranium oxide to purified uranium metal. For this, NFS had to meet NNSA’s precise specifications, which required certain licence amendments through NRC. This amendment is expected to be finalised later this year.

“Under the first phase of the contract, NFS proved that it could meet the rigorous requirements outlined by the NNSA,” said Sharon Smoot, BWXT Nuclear Operations Group President. “The conversion process is similar to other work we currently perform, and we are confident that we will meet the demands of Phase II of the contract while maintaining a strong focus on safety and quality.”

The NNSA is responsible for the US enriched uranium inventory, which supports numerous national security missions, including NNSA’s Office of Defense Programs, Naval Reactors and Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Programs. Oxide-to-metal purification and conversion has historically been performed at the NNSA’s Y-12 National Security Complex, which is currently undergoing modernisation. NFS will provide these services until Y-12 resumes operation. NNSA will provide enriched uranium oxide to NFS for purification and conversion and plans to return the purified metal back to Y-12 for storage and future use.

The Phase II contract will also allow NFS to use portions of the purification and conversion line to produce fuel feedstock for potential use by Naval Reactors. NFS manufactures fuel material for all naval nuclear reactors used in US submarines and aircraft carriers.

NFS also converts Cold War-era government stockpiles of HEU into material suitable for further processing into commercial nuclear reactor fuel.

Image: Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin, TN, USA (courtesy of BWX Technologies)