More vit plant layoffs coming during 2012

April 10, 2012 

Bechtel National will begin sending out a new round of layoff notices late this month as it cuts another 200 to 300 positions at the Hanford vitrification plant by the end of the year.

The layoffs are for nonconstruction workers, after Bechtel sent out layoff notices to 198 construction workers at the end of March, bringing total layoffs of construction workers to about 550 during a five-months period. Bechtel plans no more layoffs of construction workers this year.

Bechtel is doing some belt tightening at the vitrification plant, which includes reducing overtime, reviewing purchases and reviewing subcontracts, which also could lead to some job losses at some subcontractors on the project.

It is aligning its work force with current vitrification plant project priorities and resulting work plans, it said in a statement last week. The $12.2 billion plant is being built to treat up to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste left from past weapons plutonium production.

The nonconstruction positions that will be cut provide technical, construction and other support to the project, said Suzanne Heaston, Bechtel spokeswoman.

Bechtel and its prime subcontractor, URS, have openings on other projects around the world for vitrification plant employees willing to relocate, and Bechtel is aggressively pursuing those corporate transfers, said Frank Russo, Bechtel project director, in a memo to staff Monday afternoon.

A job fair will be held in May to showcase opportunities at other Bechtel projects.

"We will keep you updated and will do everything possible to identify options available to you to allow your career to continue uninterrupted," Russo said in the memo.

While some staffing changes are needed, the project also has an "immediate and continued need to keep progressing this critical project," he said.

Bechtel has been directed by the Department of Energy to propose a new baseline, or cost and schedule plan for the plant, based on priorities that start with meeting commitments to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to verify technical issues are resolved.

Next would be completing sections of the plant that will not process high-level radioactive waste. That includes the Low Level Waste Facility, the Analytical Laboratory and a group of about 20 support buildings.

The remaining resources would be focused first on the High Level Waste Facility and then on the Pretreatment Facility. At the High Level Waste Facility, engineering and construction should be completed as money allows. At the Pretreatment Facility, Bechtel's instructions include completing engineering and work to reduce risks and technical issues, but construction was not mentioned.

The baseline proposal will be based on a projected budget of $690 million a year. In February the Obama administration proposed to Congress that the vit plant receive $690 million in fiscal 2013, down from $740 million this year. DOE plans had called for spending $970 million on the plant in fiscal 2013.

The decrease reflects the project's opportunity to resolve technical issues in the Pretreatment Facility, where mixing and other issues have been raised, according to the budget request document.

Total employment at the vitrification plant project is now at 2,725 workers.

Other Hanford contractors also are looking at layoffs or possible layoffs.

Mission Support Alliance has Department of Energy approval to lay off up to 100 workers and earlier this year laid off 36 people toward that total. It's looking at the skill mix it needs going forward and more layoffs out of the total 100 are anticipated.

CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. sent a memo to employees last week to address rumors of potential layoffs. The Hanford contractor, which is in charge of central Hanford and ground water cleanup, told workers its staffing is aligned with the budget available for the current fiscal year, which ends in September.

But CH2M Hill is evaluating various staffing scenarios to meet DOE's 2015 vision, it said. The 2015 vision includes completing most environmental cleanup along the Columbia River, knocking down the Plutonium Finishing Plant and the remaining ground water cleanup.

More information might come later this month.

As environmental cleanup along the Columbia River advances and work there is ramped down, Washington Closure Hanford, which is in charge of environmental cleanup along the river, will gradually need fewer workers. It plans to lay off 210 workers throughout the fiscal year that started Oct. 1.

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