Nuclear Fuel Services has a multiple cases of COVID-19 among its workforce, the BWX Technologies [BWXT] subsidiary and defense-uranium contractor said Tuesday.
The Erwin, Tenn., company — a key contractor for nuclear materials for the ongoing modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal — did not say how many employees were infected, or how many potentially exposed employees were in quarantine following contact with the sick workers.
“Our coronavirus response protocols call for enhanced cleaning across the site, social distancing, hand washing, hand sanitizing and use of face masks,” Nuclear Fuel Services wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “Employees who experience COVID-19-like symptoms, have potentially been exposed, or are ill have been instructed to stay home.”
It was not clear whether the COVID-19 emergency response might delay any of Nuclear Fuel Services contract milestones. Among other things, the company is producing low-enriched uranium to produce tritium in civilian nuclear reactors for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) nuclear weapons programs.
The company is down-blending highly enriched uranium from the NNSA’s own stock under a five-year, $500 million contract awarded in 2019. The NNSA tapped its own uranium stock so that the agency would have more time to shepherd a domestic uranium enrichment capability to refine low-enriched uranium for the tritium mission. The agency wants enrichment up and running in the 2040s.
Nuclear Fuel Services also could wind up purifying defense uranium for the weapons program around 2023 or so. The NNSA is negotiating with the company to act as a backstop for the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., in a few years.
Y-12 handles purification in Building 9212 today, but that capability will switch offline temporarily in 2023, as the Bechtel National-led site prime Consolidated Nuclear Security begins the process of transferring the work into 9212’s replacement, the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF).
UPF is under construction and slated to be finished in 2025.
Competing local television stations were first to report the COVID-19 cases at Nuclear Fuel Services: CBS affiliate WJHL in Johnson City, Tenn., and local NBC affiliate WCYB in Bristol, Va.