The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on Monday moved to reassure the city of Oak Ridge that moving some uranium purification outside the fence at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge Tenn., will not cost the site any jobs.
The city raised the alarm in a statement issued before the Thanksgiving holiday last week, complaining that a planned early-December contract award to BWX Technologies [BWXT] subsidiary Nuclear Fuel Services — to pilot the conversion and purification of highly enriched uranium (HEU) at the company’s Erwin, Tenn., facility — would result in a “loss of mission and jobs” at Y-12: the manufacturing hub for uranium-powered, nuclear-weapon secondary stages.
“Y-12 will not see a reduction in work scope, or in employment, related to this action” a spokesperson for the NNSA wrote in an email Monday evening to sister publication Weapons Complex Morning Briefing. “NNSA remains fully committed to Y-12 as the Nation’s Uranium Center of Excellence, as evidenced by continued increasing investments including this year’s $2.2 billion funding request for national security programs on the campus.”
Because the deal was not official yet, the NNSA spokesperson declined to provide the terms of the planned contract, which the agency has been negotiating with Nuclear Fuel Services for more than a year. However, the spokesperson said Monday that the deal would “provide a commercial capability to supplement NNSA’s HEU purification process and bridge the gap in conversion capabilities.”
When it announced its intent to sole-source the HEU purification work to Nuclear Fuel Services last year, the NNSA said it would need the company to step in some time around 2023, when the agency plans to take existing purification systems offline at Y-12’s Building 9212.
Eventually, the NNSA plans to move uranium purification back to Y-12. Exactly when depends on how long it takes the agency to perfect the Direct-Electrolytic Reduction technology it plans to use to convert uranium oxide to uranium metal.