In 1988, Duratek Corp.'s business of cleaning up the nuclear power industry's liquid waste looked bright. Having just landed 100th place on The Washington Post's list of the top 100 largest local public companies, Duratek's president predicted that the firm's $5 million in annual revenue could grow to $30 million.

But in August, increasing competition in that inherently limited market prompted the Columbia, Md.-based company to sell the majority of its nuclear waste processing interests to its major competitor, Chemical Nuclear Systems Inc., a subsidiary of Chemical Waste Management Inc.

So Duratek had to find a new business -- and found one in its own corporate family.

Last month, Duratek acquired General Technical Services Inc. (GTS) of Columbia, a supplier of high-technology temporary personnel. GTS was a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Physics Corp., also based in Columbia. General Physics and Duratek are almost entirely owned by New York-based National Patent Development Corp.

"{Duratek} had cash and {was} looking for a way to reapply that in a productive way," said Robert L. Prince, founder and former president of GTS, who now is president of Duratek. "We {GTS} had grown to about $34 million in 1989. A light bulb just went off in someone's head. National Patent felt it was a good opportunity to build some life into Duratek."

The Duratek transaction also gives GTS, which is not a public company, access to a public market, Prince said. After an initial over-the-counter public offering of $6.25 a share in 1986, Duratek's stock has been hovering around $2 a share for two years. It closed Friday at $1.

Prince founded GTS as a subsidiary of General Physics in 1984 with the intent of providing a variety of temporary personnel to high-tech industries, but the company found itself concentrating on providing temporary personnel for its parent company's projects. General Physics provides training and systems development for the Navy and private industry, with a specialization in nuclear power plants.

GTS eventually branched out, and soon it did not need the relationship with General Physics to be self-sufficient, Prince said.

Duratek is under contract for the next five years to supply some of the materials Chemical Nuclear needs to support the waste processing business it acquired from Duratek. But that business, and the small amount of research and development Duratek still does in the nuclear waste processing industry, will account for less than 5 percent of the company's revenue this year, which Prince estimated at $35 million.

"The intent is to refocus the Duratek business on the Department of Energy," Prince said. "GTS will always lead the company by a wide margin, but Duratek will be a small, but profitable, enterprise," he said, referring to Duratek's non-GTS business lines.

Duratek, which has 10 employees, paid $7.5 million in cash and 3.5 million shares of its stock to acquire GTS, which has 67 employees. Under the terms of the contract, every management and staff employee at GTS and Duratek received 100 shares of Duratek stock.

While the acquisition represents a significant change in direction for Duratek, it is not stepping onto entirely foreign soil. GTS has built a core operation providing temporary employees to the nuclear power industry, which now accounts for about 60 percent of its business. Prince said he hopes the affiliation with Duratek, with its nuclear industry experience, will help GTS's position in that market.

Along that line, last week GTS won a multimillion-dollar contract from Duke Power Co. of North Carolina to provide all the health physics technicians Duke Power will need at its seven nuclear power plants over the next three years. About 150 health physics technicians are brought into nuclear power plants when they close for maintenance and refueling to supervise the health and safety of the temporary employees that usually are needed to do the work.

But Prince has his sights set beyond the nuclear power industry.

"Our mission is to be a diversified high-tech staff augmentation and consulting company," he said.