Almost 200 are laid off at Hanford vit plant

Almost 200 construction workers have been laid off recently at the Hanford vitrification plant.

That brings the number of construction workers laid off to about 550 in the past five months.

While there has been some hiring of nonconstruction workers, including engineers and nuclear safety workers, the total employment on the project is now at about 2,725 workers.

That's down from about 3,000 in late January and a typical range of earlier of 3,200 to 3,400 workers, including construction and nonmanual workers.

The most recent round of layoffs was conducted with notices sent at the end of the last work week to 198 construction workers in a variety of crafts. They mostly are related to the Pretreatment and High Level Waste facilities.

"The craft work force is being aligned with current (vit plant) project priorities and resulting work plans," Bechtel National said in a statement.

The Department of Energy has instructed Bechtel National to propose a new baseline, or cost and schedule plan for the plant, based on priorities that start with meeting commitments to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to verify technical issues are resolved.

Next would be completing sections of the plant that will not process high-level radioactive waste. That includes the Low Level Waste Facility, the Analytical Laboratory and a group of about 20 support buildings. Construction on those three projects ranges from 63 percent to 78 percent complete.

The remaining resources would be focused first on the High Level Waste Facility and then on the Pretreatment Facility. At the High Level Waste Facility, engineering and construction should be completed as money allows.

At the Pretreatment Facility, Bechtel's instructions include completing engineering and work to reduce risks and technical issues, but construction is not mentioned.

Construction on those two buildings is about 40 percent complete.

In February the Obama administration proposed to Congress that the vit plant receive $690 million in fiscal 2013, down from $740 million this year. DOE plans had called for spending $970 million on the plant in fiscal 2013.

The decrease reflects the project's opportunity to resolve technical issues in the Pretreatment Facility, where mixing and other issues have been raised, according to the budget request document.

The rebaselining proposal also is to be based on a projected budget of $690 million a year.

Bechtel National does not anticipate a further drop in the total number of construction workers, said Bechtel spokeswoman Suzanne Heaston, although some changes in workers because of the types of construction skills needed are routine.

The $12.2 billion plant is being built to treat up to 56 million gallons of radioactive waste left from the past production of weapons plutonium. It is required to start operating in 2019.