100 workers to be hired at tank farm contractor

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMay 30, 2013 

The Hanford tank farm contractor plans to hire about 100 union workers in June, just months after sequestration forced the layoffs of 235 workers across Hanford.

The first 50 workers will be hired Monday, said John Britton, spokesman for Washington River Protection Solutions.

The Department of Energy contractor is expecting to receive $48 million in reprogrammed money, after Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., worked to get money already budgeted in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 switched to Hanford projects that need it most and to prevent Hanford money from being moved to other DOE sites.

Congressional committees have approved DOE's reprogramming request, and the administrative process to move the money is under way.

"But we need to get the people on board, trained and productive when the money is available," Britton said.

The 100 workers to be hired will include six or seven types of workers, including health physics technicians who do radiological control work and nuclear chemical operators. The Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council, or HAMTC, has advised its workers to make sure their local union halls have their information if they have recall rights.

Washington River Protection Solutions laid off 37 union workers at the end of March because of sequestration, or forced budget cuts, that reduced its money by $40 million. It expects to hire most of those people back, Britton said. The number of layoffs in March would have been larger, but some HAMTC workers volunteered to take time off to allow coworkers' jobs to be saved.

The tank farms need to hire more workers than were laid off to make up for lost time, Britton said. The DOE contractor also has required 900 nonunion workers to take 2.5 to 6.5 weeks off because of sequestration.

"We're looking at the furlough situation and how we are going to proceed," he said.

The $48 million in reprogrammed money includes $46 million that had been budgeted for the vitrification plant being built to treat the waste.

Congress had planned to return spending at the vitrification plant to an annual budget of $690 million, but then did not pass a budget for the current fiscal year. Instead, spending was rolled over in a continuing resolution at the previous year's level of $740 million. The $46 million is the approximate difference between those two amounts after sequestration.

About $2 million that had been sent to the Idaho nuclear site also would be paid back to Hanford, bringing the total additional money for the tank farms to $48 million.

The additional money will be used for three projects at the tank farms, where 56 million gallons of radioactive waste is stored in underground tanks. The waste is left from the past production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

Work will be increased at the 16 tanks in the group called the C Tank Farm. All the single-shell tanks there must be emptied into newer double-shell tanks by fall 2014 to meet a court-enforced consent decree.

Additional money would be used to operate the 242-A Evaporator, which reduces liquid waste in double-shell tanks to make more space available and allow work to continue to empty single-shell tanks. DOE also needs to improve the tank farm infrastructure.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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