Hanford contractor says 70 volunteer for layoffs

Washington River Protection Solutions agreed to voluntary layoffs for all 70 workers who applied for them, the Hanford contractor announced Tuesday.

The layoffs include 44 nonunion employees and 26 union employees.

They will ease some of the pain for the additional layoffs the tank farm contractor is anticipating. It is preparing to cut up to 475 jobs by Oct. 13 under a worst-case fiscal 2012 budget scenario.

The Department of Energy is allowing its environmental cleanup contractors to lay off up to 1,100 workers in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 to prepare for an uncertain federal budget. To date, only Washington River Protection Solutions has planned layoffs linked to the 2012 budget.

However, the possible 1,100 job cuts are in addition to up to 1,985 layoffs already announced this year, the majority of which will be Sept. 29. Most of them are linked to the end of most spending of federal economic stimulus money.

Hanford started the calendar year with about 12,000 employees.

The nuclear reservation is waiting for a fiscal 2012 budget, but may start the year under a continuing resolution while Congress works on a Department of Energy budget.

Under a continuing resolution the Hanford budget would hold steady at fiscal 2011 levels, but minus the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money.

At the tank farms, were 56 million gallons of radioactive waste are held in underground tanks, that would mean a worst-case budget of $397 million at least to start the fiscal year. In the year now nearing an end, $397 million in annual budget money plus $157 million in economic stimulus money is expected to be spent at the tank farms.

DOE had requested a budget of $521 million for 2012 to do work needed to prepare to deliver tank waste to the vitrification plant for treatment starting in 2019. That level likely would have required no layoffs.

But Congress was not inclined to spend that much.

The House has approved a budget of $408 million for the tank farms and the Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved a budget of $467 million. Even if the $467 million is the final budget number, layoffs will be needed at the tank farms, management told tank farm workers last week.

"As the budget process continues to evolve, we will work with DOE to adjust, and I hope reduce, impacts to staffing and scope," said Chuck Spencer, president of Washington Protection Solutions, in a memo to employees last week.