Budget Cuts Prompt Layoffs at Savannah River Site MOX Project

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Employees at Savannah River Site’s beleaguered MOX project could begin receiving layoff notices this week because of federal budget cuts and a possible change in direction for the government’s plutonium disposition project, reports the  Augusta Chronicle.  In an e-mail to workers, Shaw Areva MOX Services President Kelly Trice said deep cuts in President Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget request will reduce funding for the mixed oxide plant and require personnel reductions by the end of the fiscal year.

The need for layoffs, he said, will trigger a federal act requiring a 60-day notice for plant closings or mass layoffs.

“The first notices to employees will occur by the end of this week and will follow over the next few months as needed to address the budget shortfall,” Trice’s e-mail said. Trice did not divulge how many of the project’s 2,100 workers might be laid off.

The MOX facility, which is about 60 percent complete, is the cornerstone of the National Nuclear Security Administration’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. Energy Department 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 also plans to “assess alternatives” to MOX — a sign critics believe could herald the abandonment of a facility where more than $4 billion has already been spent.

Trice said there are scenarios that could reduce the impact of budget cuts. He said that in the case of a budget standoff in Congress, a continuing resolution to keep the government running would “most likely keep all government spending at current levels, including MOX.”

“The MOX project has many strong supporters in Congress and they are doing everything possible to increase funding this fall when the spending bills pass Congress,” he said. Read More.