Nearly a month after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, production of Centrus Energy Corp.’s new all-domestic enrichment cascade in Ohio is one of the first projects for the Department of Energy fearing delays from the viral outbreak.

“We are continuing to make progress but we anticipate that there could be impacts on the project schedule as a result of the COVID-19 response,” a Centrus spokesperson said this week.

The company is building a 16-machine cascade based on its AC100M technology at the Energy Department’s Portsmouth Site near Piketon, Ohio. The aim is to produce a uranium fuel containing 19.75% uranium-235, high assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) that DoE wants to help develop next-generation nuclear reactors.

AC100 technology is one of two the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is considering using for a next-generation domestic enrichment facility needed in the 2040s to produce low-enriched uranium for tritium production.

Centrus’ technology is, according to NNSA, by far the more mature of the two. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee is developing the other, sometimes called “small centrifuge.” Keeping the pressure on Centrus, the NNSA has decided to delay its analysis of alternatives, essentially, the choice between the two technologies, by about a year. The agency now expects to decide which to use in late 2020.

All nuclear weapons require rolling tritium refreshments. The radioactive hydrogen isotope increases the yield of thermonuclear bombs and warheads.

Centrus started working on its new cascade beginning last summer under a letter contract for the $115-million, 80-20 cost share deal with two years of firm funding and a one-year option. Since then, Centrus has pushed through three of 14 milestones, hitting the third in October when it awarded a contract for procurement of machine casings. The Bethesda, Md., company didn’t say who got the deal.

Not long after that subcontract award, the novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, China. It spread to the U.S. by January and now has disrupted daily life for the foreseeable future.

Centrus’ next milestone for the HALEU cascade, built on the site of the company’s now-decommissioned American Centrifuge Project, is re-establishing by June 1 a vendor supply chain to provide material and equipment for the new centrifuges. The primary milestone this year is building centrifuge subassemblies and sending them to Piketon: all 16, by Dec. 31.

But with the Portsmouth Site transitioning to minimum safe operations and one case confirmed among that site’s workforce — Centrus wouldn’t say if it was one of theirs — there is doubt about hitting those milestones. Daniel Poneman, Centrus’ chief executive officer, disclosed the news last week on a company earnings call.

This week, a company spokesperson said Centrus is “doing a controlled shutdown of some support systems at our Piketon site with minimal staffing.”

The silver lining for the company is that “[m]uch of the work under our HALEU contract with the Department of Energy to date is unclassified and portions of it can continue via telework,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said this week, as Poneman did last week, that Centrus is already in contact with DoE about the possible delays.

This story first appeared in Defense Daily affiliate publication Weapons Complex Morning Briefing.