Hanford's tank farm contractor handed out layoff notices Monday, bringing to 244 the number of layoffs at the nuclear reservation linked to uncertainties in the budget for the fiscal year that began Saturday.
The 244 layoffs were fewer than previously had been approved at the tank farms, where 56 million gallons of radioactive waste are stored from the past production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.
But it still puts the total cutback at Hanford since spring at 1,993 jobs. The year started with about 12,000 jobs at Hanford.
The tank farm contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, had earlier approval from the Department of Energy to lay off up to 475 workers at the start of this fiscal year.
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But contractor officials were waiting to get a better idea of what to expect in the 2012 budget before sending out layoff notices that ended up cutting about half that number.
Days before the start of the federal government's fiscal year, Congress approved a continuing resolution to allow the government to operate until today.
It is working on approval of a second continuing resolution that would allow the government to operate until Nov. 18, giving Congress more time to pass a budget.
DOE agreed in late fiscal 2010 to allow Hanford cleanup contractors to lay off up to 1,100 workers as it began to look likely that fiscal 2012 would start without a budget, putting contractors at risk of spending too much money before a potentially tight budget for the rest of the year was in place. Washington River Protection Solutions is the only contractor to take advantage of that offer.
Washington River Protection Solutions based the total of 244 jobs cut on guidance from DOE on what work it wanted accomplished at the tank farms under the continuing resolution, said contractor spokesman Jerry Holloway.
While Congress works to pass a budget, DOE has directed Washington River Protection Solutions to proceed under the continuing resolution with enough workers to support "near-term regulatory commitments in the tank farms," said Lori Gamache, DOE spokeswoman.
That includes work to empty leak-prone underground tanks of radioactive waste and to prepare to transfer the waste to the vitrification plant when it begins operating to treat the waste.
Depending on the timing and amount of the final appropriation for the tank farms for fiscal 2012, additional work force changes may be needed, she said.
Layoff notices were given to 168 nonunion tank farm employees Monday and most left work that day, although they will continue to be employees and will be paid through Oct. 13. Of those, 44 workers volunteered for layoffs.
That's in addition to 76 union employees laid off last month. They were part of the same round of budget-related layoffs, but Washington River Protection Solutions notified them early to make the sitewide union "bump and roll" more efficient.
Union employees who are caught in layoffs at one contractor may be given the job of another union employee with less seniority at another contractor, and a bump and roll linked to the end of Recovery Act spending already was under way for the end of September.
For nonunion employees, Washington River Protection Solutions looked at the work it expected to have money to accomplish and also used a rating and ranking process to determine layoffs.
Most laid off workers are eligible for a week of severance pay for every year worked up to 20 years.
Most layoffs since spring at Hanford have been based on the end to most spending of federal economic stimulus money at Hanford. While the tank farms ended Recovery Act spending, long-term DOE plans had called for an increase in spending at the tank farms to prepare infrastructure and other systems to transfer waste to the vitrification plant for treatment by 2019.
DOE had requested $521 million for work at the tank farms this year after spending $397 in annual budget money plus $157 million in Recovery Act money in the year just ended.
However, the House has approved a budget of $408 million and the Senate budget, which has made it through the Senate Appropriations Committee, stands at $467 million.
Under the continuing resolution, the tank farm drops to last year's annual budget of $397 million minus a cutback of 1.5 percent.
More layoffs at Hanford are expected this fiscal year, at least in part because of the ramp down of environmental cleanup work near the Columbia River as projects are completed there over the next few years.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org