United States: Nuclear clean-up workers sacked

At the most highly contaminated US nuclear site, redundancy notices went out on March 18 to nearly 250 workers. More than 2500 others were notified they faced temporary layoffs of several weeks.

About 9000 people work at Washington State's Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which produced plutonium for US nuclear weapons during World War II and the Cold War.

Contractors are cleaning up the highly contaminated site and removing millions of gallons of radioactive waste for treatment at a plant now under construction.

The plant's construction will not be hit by automatic federal budget cuts, but all other clean-up work at the site is likely to be affected.

The redundancies will centre on trade union employees such as pipe fitters, the Energy Department said. And non-union office workers ― including administrative, engineering and safety professionals ― face a temporary unpaid leave of absence.

Officials recently announced that six underground radioactive tanks were leaking, raising concerns about any delay emptying them.

“These lost jobs and working hours will adversely impact families and will harm economic recovery in the region,” Washington State Governor Jay Inslee said.

“Now is no time to scale back federal commitments to protecting public and environmental health.”

The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Today, it is the nation's most contaminated nuclear site, with clean-up efforts expected to last decades.

The Department of Energy's Office of River Protection, which oversees tank clean-up and plant construction, said its budget had been cut by US$92 million, largely from tank clean-up.

Instead, federal officials propose to ship waste from five of the six leaking tanks to New Mexico. However, that proposal will take at least two years to implement.

The cuts within the Energy Department's budget are the result of the debate in Congress, where Republicans and President Barack Obama are fighting over how to curtail the nation's debt.

[Reprinted from Morning Star.]

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