Savannah River Remediation laid off 465 employees Thursday as part of a workforce restructuring linked to “continuing fiscal challenges” at Savannah River Site.
“I regret that we have to take this step, but I encourage you to avoid the distractions that these workforce changes can cause,” said interim SRR president Stuart MacVean, in a memo to employees.
The company, whose workforce will shrink from 2,165 to about 1,700 employees, manages the U.S. Energy Department site’s radioactive waste programs, including underground storage tanks, saltstone processing and the Defense Waste Processing Facility.
The possibility of layoffs emerged July 8, when the Energy Department, citing fiscal 2014 budget cuts, announced it was preparing a “workforce restructuring plan” designed to lessen the impact of potential layoffs to contractor employees and the surrounding community.
Under the plan, the department would provide assistance to displaced workers, policies for retraining and rehiring and outplacement services to help workers find new jobs.
In Thursday’s memo, MacVean said affected employees will receive two weeks’ pay in lieu of notice and a severance payment equal to one week’s pay for each full year of service up to a maximum of 26 weeks. Their last day on the staffing rolls will be Sept. 27.
The site’s radioactive waste program is already under fire from officials in South Carolina, who say cleanup efforts continue to lag father behind schedule.
In an Aug. 28 letter, South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control Director Catherine Templeton warned Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz that budget cuts will further slow progress at SRS and could trigger $154 million in fines for violating its agreements with state regulators.
The site’s liquid waste, stored in underground tanks, poses “the single largest environmental threat in South Carolina,” Templeton wrote, adding that state officials will not extend cleanup deadlines to accommodate federal budget cuts.
“DHEC will not restructure these agreements simply because DOE decides to fund other sites instead of SRS,” she wrote, noting that SRS took the largest share of environmental management budget cuts.
“It simply makes more sense to invest in the site now than put off the work and pay penalties in the future,” she wrote.
Although some tanks at the site have been closed, at least eight of the remaining tanks are partially or completely submerged in groundwater and could become much more dangerous in the future.
“Present action can prevent future crisis, but the time to act is now,” she wrote.
Savannah River Remediation has been the site’s liquid waste contractor since 2009 and is comprised of a team of companies led by URS Corp. with partners Bechtel National, CH2M Hill and Babcock & Wilcox.
Although unrelated to the restructuring plan, the threat of layoffs also looms for workers at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s mixed oxide fuel facility, where surplus plutonium would be blended into commercial reactor fuel.
Congress is reviewing the administration’s proposal to scale back work on the project, which is 60 percent complete, while less expensive options are studied.
If proposed cuts are adopted, workforce reductions could be necessary within Shaw Areva MOX Services, the contractor on the MOX project, which has about 2,100 employees at the site.