Isotek, DOE sign legacy waste contract modification

22 June 2020

SNC-Lavalin's Isotek Systems, LLC business and the US Department of Energy (DOE) have signed a USD254 million contract modification to perform processing operations to dispose of uranium-233 material up until 2024 on the Uranium-233 Disposition Project at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee. This contract modification, SNC-Lavalin said, is aligned with the company's new strategy to move towards engineering services and greater growth.

An aerial photo of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Image: ORNL)

The uranium-233 was created as an alternative fuel source for nuclear reactors but was found not to be viable. The material is now stored in secure vaults in Building 3019, which was built in the 1940s at ORNL. Removing the waste could allow ORNL to relax its overall security posture, which will reduce costs, eliminate nuclear safety issues and make the campus more conducive to collaborative science, according to a US Senate Appropriations Committee report published in July 2017.

Since 2003, Isotek - a wholly owned subsidiary of Atkins Nuclear Secured - has been contracted by the DOE to safely and securely oversee the inventory of uranium-233 and prepare its removal from ORNL's Building 3019, the USA's oldest operating nuclear facility. SNC-Lavalin acquired WS Atkins in July 2017.

Isotek in October 2019 began processing canisters of uranium-233 in Building 2026 and shipping the processed material for safe permanent disposal. During the processing of uranium-233, Isotek is extracting thorium-229. This rare man-made isotope is being used to support cancer treatment research. Isotek is using the proceeds from the sale of the thorium-229 to privately fund portions of the Uranium-233 Disposition Project.

The contract modification continues the partnership between Isotek and the DOE and authorises USD254 million to fund and continue Isotek's mission to safely dispose of more than 80% of the remaining uranium-233 inventory. To date, about half of the inventory has been removed from Building 3019 and directly disposed of.

"This contract modification reflects DOE's trust and confidence in Isotek to carry out this very important mission," said Isotek President Jim Bolon.

Sandy Taylor, president of SNC-Lavalin's nuclear business, added: "The successful partnership we have formed with DOE to accelerate this vital work is a proud achievement for our company."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News