RICHLAND — Hanford will have to be innovative as it faces the likely loss of young workers in job cuts related to budget challenges, said Department of Energy officials Wednesday night in Richland.
About 100 people attended the Tri-Cities Hanford State of the Site meeting, with issues from layoffs to the Japan nuclear crisis to Hanford's safety culture discussed.
About 25 percent of the present Hanford work force could be gone by the time operations are ramping up at the Hanford vitrification plant, said Laura Hanses, a Hanford worker and member of the Hanford Advisory Board.
"Now is not the time to lay off but to continue to grow so in 2016 we have a high confidence in the work force," she said.
The most immediate cutback is a projected decrease of 1,600 jobs as federal economic stimulus money is spent by Oct. 1.
"We can't control a lot of what is happening now, but we have to start thinking outside of the box," said Jonathan "JD" Dowell, acting manager of the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection.
One possibility might be rehiring older and experienced workers to come back as mentors to new workers, he said.
Under the proposed Hanford budget for fiscal 2012, environmental cleanup work would stop at the Plutonium Finishing Plant. Retraining those workers would take six to nine months when work resumes, DOE said.
"This is shocking," given the cleanup progress that was made using economic stimulus money, said Gerald Pollet, executive director of Heart of America Northwest.
DOE has formed a team that will scrub every dollar in the budget, looking at money that could be made available for cleanup, with the Plutonium Finishing Plant a top priority, said Doug Shoop, deputy manager of the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office.
Tom Carpenter, executive director of Hanford Challenge, asked whether DOE would be rethinking the robustness of the design of the Hanford vitrification plant, given the events in the last week in Japan.
Comparing issues such as heat decay in the fuel at the Japanese nuclear power reactor to the radioactive waste at the vitrification plant is an apples to oranges comparison, Dowell said. If power shut down at the vit plant, the heaters would cool, rather than create higher temperatures, he said.
But that said, DOE will be looking closely and thoroughly at what lessons can be learned from Japan, he said.
DOE continues to work on more testing of solutions to technical issues at the vitrification plant, he said. The same issues raised by whistleblower Walt Tamosaitis, a top manager who alleges he lost his position at the plant after raising safety issues, also were raised by Tamosaitis' counterparts at DOE and continue to be studied, Dowell said.
One man, who did not identify himself, said he was concerned that some workers in the Hanford tank farms are unwilling to bring up safety concerns or call for a stop to work they believe is unsafe for fear of losing their jobs.
"We still have management that thinks it knows better than anyone else," despite a Hanford-wide program that allows any worker to stop work if they believe there is a safety issue, said Keith Smith, a retired Hanford worker and member of the Hanford Advisory Board.
Washington River Protection Solutions, the contractor in charge of the tank farm, does not tolerate retaliation, said spokesman Jerry Holloway after the meeting. But while all concerns are investigated, the outcomes of the investigation do not always please everyone, he said.
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org.