Nuvia and Jacobs also set to bid for design and build contract on radioactive waste processing plant

Costain, Nuvia and Jacobs are understood to be among the firms gearing up to bid to design and build a radioactive waste processing plant, worth up to £1.5bn, as part of the decommissioning of Sellafield.

Sellafield put out a tender notice last week for the contract, thought to be the biggest so far in the decommissioning of the Cumbrian site.

The scheme involves radioactive liquid that has collected at the plant during its lifetime. This has to be analysed, treated and made safe for long-term storage. It is valued at a minimum of £250m but could be up to six times that figure.

Designs will be vetted by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and the government before building work is allowed to start. This is expected to happen in mid-2012.

The National Audit Office estimates that the cost of decommissioning the 19 nuclear sites in the UK will be £73bn.

The job is process orientated, which is where costain is strong

Source at Costain

Sellafield Ltd, the company in charge of decommissioning and waste management at the plant, was yesterday due to host an “insight day” to inform potential bidders about the scheme.

Industry sources said Costain was a strong contender for the project, as it is already doing similar work at Sellafield. Last month, the firm won a £297m contract to build an evaporator at the site. A source said: “The job is process-orientated, which is where Costain is strong.”

The contract has gone to tender without a prequalification round, and the deadline for submissions is 9 October.

Costain this week reported a fall in first-half pre-tax profit by one-third to £6.9m, but an order book that has grown 25% to £2.5bn, partly due to nuclear work. Turnover grew 9% from £468m to £508m.

The news comes as Parsons Brinckerhoff secured a deal to provide the NDA with monitoring support over the next three years. The value of the contract is estimated at £3-4.5m.