BWXT announces contract to produce HALEU from scrap material

September 8, 2023, 12:00PMNuclear News

BWX Technologies, Inc. has announced the details of a contract with the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration to process thousands of kilograms of government-owned scrap material containing enriched uranium and produce more than two metric tons of high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) in an oxide form at an enrichment level of 19.75 percent U-235. That HALEU oxide could supply a fraction of the 22 metric tons the DOE has estimated will be needed by the mid-2020s to fuel advanced reactor demonstrations and meet existing commitments for research reactor fuel.

The scrap material that will be provided by the NNSA “is currently in a variety of forms and enrichment levels, and it has been collected by the government from a number of different sources, primarily at the Y-12 National Security Complex,” according to BWXT in an August 30 announcement.

Plan of work: BWXT Nuclear Operations Group, Inc. (BWXT NOG) will conduct the work at facilities near Lynchburg, Va. The initial award is $47 million, according to BWXT, with a total contract value of up to $116.5 million subject to annual congressional appropriations. BWXT expects to produce more than two metric tons of HALEU over the next five years, with several hundred kilograms expected “as early as 2024.”

According to BWXT, the contract “adds to BWXT’s ongoing work with the NNSA to build the company’s HALEU production capabilities in support of converting high performance research reactors from highly enriched uranium to HALEU.” To support the program, BWXT plans to hire approximately 20 new operators, engineers, and safety personnel at its Lynchburg-area facility.

They said it: “We are proud to partner with BWXT on this important initiative. The project will clear over two metric tons of scrap material from the Y-12 National Security Complex, contributing to ongoing efforts to reduce the material accountability and inventory totals at the site, while also supporting the department’s advanced reactor demonstration projects,” said Jeff Chamberlin, assistant deputy administrator for DOE/NNSA’s Office of Material Management and Minimization.

“Interest in, and demand for, advanced reactors continues to grow for both national security and clean energy applications,” said Sharon Smoot, president of BWXT NOG. “One of BWXT’s key roles in moving the nuclear industry forward is leveraging its specialty materials capabilities to support domestic HALEU needs for the next generation of nuclear reactors.”

Other BWXT/Y-12 work: Readers with a sense of deja vu may recall an April announcement that BWXT’s Nuclear Fuel Services subsidiary had been contracted to purify and convert high-enriched uranium from oxide to metal form at NFS’s Erwin, Tenn., facility under a five-year contract with the NNSA.

That $428 million contract would have the NFS facility provide purification and conversion services that are usually performed at Y-12 once a process line is established and licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Once a modernization project at Y-12 is complete, the federal facility would resume the HEU purification and conversion work.

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