DARCHEM Engineering has secured a bumper nuclear storage contract that could be worth up to £50m.

At least 20 jobs will be created and secured at the engineering firm, based at Stillington, near Darlington, under the deal to provide more than a thousand high-integrity stainless steel storage containers for Sellafield nuclear plant.

The contract is also expected to enable an expansion of the renowned Darchem apprentice programme where about 60 of the firm's 900-strong workforce are now employed as apprentices.

Billy Meijer, managing director for Darchem, which is part of the US-based Esterline Group said: “This contract is a major step forward in our strategy to be a leader in fabrications for both nuclear decommissioning and nuclear new build markets.

"I am delighted to see that our long-term commitment to the UK nuclear industry has been recognised in our selection for this contract by Sellafield and we are looking forward to working with the Sellafield team.”

The three metre cube boxes will provide a safe and secure storage solution for the historical nuclear waste that is to be retrieved from one of the oldest plants, the Pile Fuel Cladding Silo, on the Sellafield site.

Mr Meijer said the deal was another vote of confidence in the firm and enhanced the long-standing relationships and reputation of Darchem's people and products with suppliers in the North West.

He added: “In addition to having had an office presence in Cumbria for the past three years, the Darchem brand has a long history of supporting both projects and the manufacturing community in the North West. We have a very strong relationship with the region, with 10 of our top 50 suppliers based in the North West.

"Since 2013, our operation has placed over £10m of Darchem product orders with these companies. As a result of this latest contract award, we are looking forward to strengthening our links with these and other potential suppliers in the North West.

“This contract win has been fully supported by our parent company, Esterline, who has made a multi-million pound inward investment in a purpose built facility to support the UK nuclear industry.”

That facility was formally opened by Michael Fallon, Defence Secretary and former Darlington MP, in June last year. Mr Meijer believed that the new Sellafield contract was a major stepping stone for Esterline’s Darchem operations to supply products for other nuclear applications beyond storage and waste management. In addition, it would also complement the long-term programmes the Darchem team has already secured for the manufacture of medium-volume, high-integrity products in other highly regulated industries including aerospace and oil and gas.

The containers themselves are double walled and fabricated of Duplex-grade stainless steel, which is designed to very strict tolerance requirements and made to the highest quality standards. The initial Darchem contract award is for the first Development Phase of the project, expected to last two years. Full-production (Phase 2) of the project is forecast to run for approximately ten years thereafter. In total, Esterline expects the two contracts to generate approximately £50million for the company.

In addition, Sellafield Ltd has indicated that there are more opportunities coming up to manufacture thousands more boxes for the Magnox Swarf Storage Silo on the Sellafield site.