Bottom-loading furnaces at the Y-12 National Security Complex, encased in a glovebox and designed to recover usable uranium scraps, will be ready for operations by late 2029, with a stop-gap furnace set to fire up this year, the National Nuclear Security Administration said.

The bottom-loading furnaces, part of the direct chip melt process the agency has been developing for about a decade, are expected to reach the critical decision 4 milestone in the fourth quarter of the 2030 fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30, 2029, a spokesperson for agency headquarters in Washington wrote in an email Tuesday.

Critical decision four is the point in DoE project management when a system is turned over to the people who will operate it from the people who built it.

The bottom loading furnaces will eventually centralize the recycling of weapon-usable uranium scraps created by defense-manufacturing programs in Y-12’s Building 9215 in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Currently, the agency recovers chips and other manufacturing byproducts from Building 9215 and moves them to Building 9212, where they are formed into briquettes and stored.

The planned bottom-loading furnaces have been delayed and redesigned, with Y-12 management contractor Consolidated Nuclear Security going back to the drawing board and electing to encase the furnaces in a glovebox after the first direct chip melt furnace built proved more hazardous to operate than anticipated. That derailed plans to install the units beginning in October 2018.

As a stop gap between the bottom-loading furnaces and the current way of doing things, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) plans to install a single direct chip melt front-loading furnace in Building 9215. That unit, at a cost of about $22 million, should be ready to operate by June 30, the NNSA spokesperson said Tuesday.

Consolidated Nuclear Security was set to transition out of its role as the operations contractor for Y-12 and the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, on April 1 and downsize to the smaller job of completing the Uranium Production Facility in Oak Ridge. The NNSA in November selected the Fluor [FLR]-led Nuclear Production One to replace the Bechtel National-led incumbent, but a pair of losing bidders lodged protests that had the agency reconsidering alleged improprieties in the competition for the follow-on contract, which could be worth some $28 billion over 10 years, including five years of options.

NNSA says the Uranium Processing Facility, which will take over from World War II-vintage Building 9212 as the manufacturing hub for nuclear-weapon secondary stages, will be finished by December 2025 at a cost of no more than $6.5 billion.