MOX facility budget cuts could idle 500 workers by Oct. 1

About 500 workers at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s MOX project could be laid off by Oct. 1 because of federal budget cuts.

“As part of the plan to address the federal budget shortfall in fiscal year 2014, the staffing reduction has begun at the MOX project,” said Bryan Wilkes, a spokesman for Shaw Areva MOX Services, the project’s contractor.

The layoffs would reduce the project’s workforce from 1,900 people to as few as 1,400 by the beginning of the new fiscal year.

About half the affected workers are in construction, and the others are from support services, Wilkes said, adding that all affected workers have been advised of the situation.

“There were 60-day notices issued over a period of two months to every affected employee,” Wilkes said. The 500 figure is a projection and actual layoff numbers could be higher or lower, depending upon final budget figures, he said.

Human resources workers will help displaced workers find other employment, and about 20 companies participated in a recent job fair in the area, many of them seeking nuclear professionals.

The MOX facility, which is about 60 percent complete, is the cornerstone of the nation’s plan to dispose of surplus plutonium by blending it into commercial nuclear fuel.

The plant has become increasingly expensive and behind schedule, with construction costs recently revised from $4.9 billion to $7.7 billion. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy proposed cutting $132.7 million, or 29.3 percent, from the project’s 2014 construction budget, citing rising costs that might have rendered the plant “unaffordable.”

In addition to slowing construction, the department plans to “assess alternatives” to MOX – a sign that critics believe could herald the abandonment of a facility where more than $4 billion has already been spent.

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