Source: Exchange Monitor | June 27, 2019
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said Tuesday it intends to award BWX Technologies subsidiary Nuclear Fuel Services a sole-source contract to purify highly enriched uranium and convert it into metal for nuclear weapons programs.
The NNSA will need Nuclear Fuel Services to step in around 2023, when the semiautononmous Department of Energy agency plans to shut down existing uranium purification systems in Building 9212 at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee, according to a June 25 letter from an NNSA official obtained by Weapons Complex Morning Briefing.
“NNSA plans to partially replace this legacy capability with an electrorefining capability in 2023,” the official wrote. “However, a capabilities gap will still exist for purifying oxides until a future time when another technology, Direct-Electrolytic Reduction (DER), is tentatively scheduled to come online.”
An NNSA spokesperson said bringing BWXT on will “provide NNSA with additional HEU processing capability that would increase the responsiveness and resiliency of the current and future uranium infrastructure during a period of transition at Y-12.”
With Tuesday’s notice of intent, the NNSA and Nuclear Fuel Services can begin negotiating contract terms. Among the to-be-decided terms: the total mass of purified uranium metal the BWXT subsidiary will provide from its Erwin, Tenn., fuel fabrication facility.
Meanwhile, Y-12 management and operations contractor Consolidated Nuclear Security is building the new Uranium Processing Facility to replace analogous World War II-era infrastructure at the site, including Building 9212. The NNSA plans to complete the new facility by the end of 2025, which would be more than a year after the final option period on the company’s contract expires.
Consolidated Nuclear Security is on the job through September 2021, after the NNSA in 2018 picked up a two-year option on the company’s contract. The Bechtel-led incumbent took over Y-12 in 2014.
The NNSA uses highly enriched uranium for the secondary stages of nuclear weapons, which are refurbished at Y-12. BWX Technologies, then called Babcock & Wilcox, managed Y-12 prior to Consolidated Nuclear Security.
The NNSA is ramping up work on life-extension programs for all active U.S. nuclear weapons, so Y-12, like the rest of the nuclear security enterprise, will only get busier. In December, Y-12 finished both the last secondary stage for the refurbished W76-1 submarine-launched ballistic-missile warhead and the first secondary stage for the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb.