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Washington Closure Hanford discusses layoff plans

Washington Closure Hanford plans to start reducing the number of employees working on its environmental cleanup projects in the fiscal year that starts in October, the Hanford contractor told workers Wednesday.

"This is a planned reduction based on completion of work," said Todd Nelson, Washington Closure spokesman.

Washington Closure has the Department of Energy's first and only closure contract at Hanford.

When it expires Sept. 30, 2015, DOE expects most work to be done to clean up Hanford along the Columbia River. There should be no need to rebid the contract and roll most workers over to a new company, as usually happens with Hanford's environmental cleanup contracts.

To prepare for a ramp down of work spread over four years, meetings were held Wednesday with nonunion workers for Washington Closure and its prime subcontractor, Eberline Services, to tell them what to expect.

The two companies have 550 to 600 nonunion employees. Their union employees are covered by separate contract agreements.

More specific details of the job cuts will not be available until DOE approves Washington Closure's proposed plan.

Washington Closure plans to notify individual workers in the fiscal quarter before their work ends. That will give workers at least three months to make plans.

At that time, each will be assigned a "closure coach," who will become familiar with their personal situation, Nelson said. The coaches, with backgrounds in human resources, will answer questions about retirement, education costs and jobs that might be available through Washington Closure parent companies URS, Bechtel and CH2M Hill.

"They will help them identify opportunities," Nelson said.

Severance pay might be available, depending on the worker's longevity.

The initial notice that employment will end will not provide an exact end date, but workers will be notified two weeks in advance of their last day of work.

Washington Closure is six years into a 10-year contract worth $2.3 billion to clean up the 220 square miles of Hanford called the river corridor. Its work, which has used many subcontractors, includes tearing down buildings, digging up buried waste, excavating contaminated soil and cocooning, or sealing up, nuclear reactor cores to let their radiation decay to more manageable levels during 75 years.

It also operates the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility, a landfill for low-level radioactive waste in central Hanford. DOE's plans for continued operation of the landfill have not been announced.

About 75 percent of the work under Washington Closure's contract is completed, Nelson said. Washington Closure is ahead of schedule and under budget, although it still has some hazardous and challenging work ahead.

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