Hanford vitrification plant layoffs 154 construction workers

Layoff notices were distributed to 154 construction workers Tuesday at the Hanford vitrification plant.

The layoffs were because of the mix of skills that will be needed this year at the $12.2 billion plant, which is being built to turn radioactive waste left from past weapons plutonium production into a stable glass form for disposal.

Some of the layoffs will be offset with the hiring of more engineers and nuclear safety workers, said Suzanne Heaston, spokeswoman for Bechtel National. Bechtel must finish the design of the plant, which requires nonmanual workers, and also is working toward licensing the plant, which also requires nonmanual workers.

The Obama administration had requested $840 million for work on the vitrification plant in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, and Bechtel was planning its work to that level of funding. That would have allowed construction to ramp up.

However, the appropriation approved by Congress and signed into law in December had $740 million for the vitrification plant. Although $100 million less than requested, it's still $50 million more than the steady funding of $690 million a year that had been the basis for planning for the project.

"This should be viewed as an indication of the importance of this project to the nation, and the confidence that Congress has about the project and our team," said Frank Russo, Bechtel director of the vit plant project, in a recent memo to employees.

Bechtel and DOE continue to replan the 2012 work at the plant based on $740 million, and more information should be available in February.

"While there remains some uncertainty in the exact level of funding available to the project during (fiscal 2012), we are now planning the $740 million annual appropriations," Russo said in the memo.

"Project staffing, procurements and construction subcontracted activities will reflect the revised work plan," he said.

In November, Bechtel announced that it had laid off close to 200 construction workers by midmonth. But employment then was expected to remain within the typical range of 3,200 to 3,400 workers, including construction and nonmanual workers.

Now Bechtel puts that number slightly lower at 3,100 to 3,200 workers.

Mission Support Alliance, the Hanford support services contractor, also is moving forward with a layoff announced in December. It said then that up to 50 employees would leave their jobs by Feb. 2. Mission Support Alliance is hoping that most of the layoffs will be voluntary and now is considering the applications it received for voluntary layoffs.

In addition, as environmental cleanup along the Columbia River advances and work there is ramped down, Washington Closure Hanford plans to lay off 210 workers throughout the fiscal year that started Oct. 1.

Source: The News Tribune