Nearly 250 laid off at Hanford nuclear site

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YAKIMA — Pink slips went out Monday to nearly 250 workers and more than 2,500 others were notified that they face furloughs of several weeks at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site, where cleanup is likely to be slowed because of automatic federal budget cuts.

About 9,000 people work at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which produced plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal beginning in World War II and through the Cold War.

Several contractors are digging up contaminated debris and soil, tearing down buildings and mothballing nuclear reactors, treating contaminated groundwater and removing millions of gallons of radioactive waste from underground tanks for treatment at a plant under construction there.

The plant’s construction will not be affected by the budget cuts, because the plant maintains an annual budget of $690 million for design and construction, said Todd Nelson, a spokesman for Bechtel National Inc., the company building the plant.

All other work at the site is likely to be slowed, though it’s yet to be seen whether any cleanup deadlines will be missed.

The layoffs will largely affect union employees who practice a particular trade, such as pipefitters, the Energy Department said. The furloughs will target nonunion office workers, including administrative, engineering and safety professionals at the Hanford site and at offices in nearby Richland.

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