After an 18-month battle with TRW Inc. over who will manage and operate the proposed permanent repository for the nation's deadly radioactive waste, the Department of Energy agreed last week to begin negotiations to hand over the project to TRW.

Bechtel Systems Management Inc. was originally picked in December 1988 to manage the controversial nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev. But that decision, potentially worth $1 billion, was immediately challenged in court by TRW, which claimed that a senior Energy Department official who played a key role in the selection of Bechtel had a conflict of interest.

TRW had once expected to expand its employment in Fairfax County by 400 if it won the contract. However, uncertainty surrounding the Energy Department's decision left the future employment impact unclear.

Last August, the U.S. Claims Court ruled that the Energy Department could not award the contract to anyone but TRW. At the time the Energy Department said its options included appealing the decision, holding another competition for a new contract or doing the work itself. The department did appeal the decision, but federal officials said that concern over delays led the officials to turn to TRW.

"We're very pleased and look forward to working with the Department of Energy on this contract," said a TRW spokesman. He declined further comment, saying that the company was awaiting details of the decision.

An Energy Department spokesman said the job that will be offered to TRW will be "a whole different thing than what Bechtel" was offered. The spokesman said that the scope of the work and the type of work performed by TRW will be part of the negotiations.

The Yucca Mountain repository has been plagued by controversy since the site was selected by Congress in 1987. It has been criticized by environmentalists and by Nevada politicians. The numerous controversies have pushed the opening date back from 1998 to 2010, while the nation's nuclear waste continues to pile up.