Here’s a version of a column done for this month’s Greater Knoxville Business Journal. It’s about Oak Ridge jobs, the knowns and uncertainties:
Employment at the Oak Ridge facilities supported by the federal government has been surprisingly stable over the past several years, especially given the partisan chaos in Congress and the budget battles that crop up frequently with new and greater fervor.
But there is certainly the potential for some job losses in the days and months ahead in Atomic City, although the threat is still not so much when compared with the post-Cold War times. Back in the 1990s, the U.S. Department of Energy had to seriously trim its Oak Ridge payrolls, and hundreds and hundreds of jobs were lost.
Anyway, today’s landscape features a big transition at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, whose management is being joined with that of the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas. Consolidated Nuclear Security, a Bechtel-led team, is taking over management of the two facilities and has promised to find efficiencies, eliminate redundancies and save the government more than $3 billion over the next 10 years.
Naturally, given the big emphasis on cost-cutting, there was expectation that the fiscal improvement would come by taking jobs off the payroll. So far, the numbers being discussed are not so big, at least not those who work directly for the managing and operating contractor (B&W Y-12, until CNS takes over fully responsibility on July 1).
B&W is carrying out a Voluntary Separation Program that’s supposed to help right-size the workforce at Y-12 based on the staffing requirements that CNS submitted to the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Initially, the plan is to eliminate only about 140 positions at Y-12. That’s out of the 4,300 people currently employed at the Oak Ridge plant. The numbers are even smaller at Pantex, where 30 jobs – out of about 3,100 total – are being eliminated to meet the workforce levels that CNS believes are needed to carry out the national security missions.
These job cuts won’t necessarily be the last ones as CNS moves into the new management role and looks for additional ways to hone operations and save taxpayer dollars.
Meanwhile, other jobs have also been impacted recently or may soon be.
For instance, about 100 members of the Uranium Processing Facility design team were let go within the past month or so, reducing the size of the project staff to about 820. Some of these reductions were made necessary as the future of the UPF project is being reevaluated and may result in significant design changes. While the design team was reduced, it’s believed that most of the employees who departed were able to return to jobs with their home companies that have been contracting on the UPF.
Of course, if and when construction of new uranium processing facilities at Y-12 begins in earnest, perhaps a year or two down the road, there could be a lot of jobs – construction and otherwise – created by the big project. But for now, some of the numbers, including the total cost of the project, are in flux.
Another Oak Ridge workforce under threat is the USEC/B&W joint effort to manufacture centrifuge machines. Nearly 300 workers earlier this spring received WARN notices and could face layoffs, depending on the on-again, off-again future plans for the American Centrifuge Project.
The Department of Energy is charged with saving the centrifuge technology for national security purposes, but it’s not yet clear whether the path forward will require the additional manufacturing of centrifuge machines.
The centrifuge demonstration effort is taking place at Piketon, Ohio, and Oak Ridge has been the manufacturing hub, as well as a research center. In recent weeks, workers at the Oak Ridge manufacturing facility have received some preparatory help in finding new jobs – should that become necessary.
MSC: Manufacturing Sciences Corp. is once again going to be changing hands.
EnergySolutions recently announced that it has reached agreement to sell its Oak Ridge subsidiary, Manufacturing Sciences, to Global Medical Isotopes Inc. Terms were not released. “A closing date will be established once state and federal regulatory approvals are received,” the announcement said.
MSC is a specialty metals processing and manufacturing company, which over the years has specialized in work with depleted uranium and other products. It was founded in 1982.
Global produces metal isotopes for the nuclear imaging and medical treatment industry, the release stated.