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Tuesday, March 31, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington

Thousands of Hanford workers to stay home for at least 2 weeks. Only essential work continues

UPDATED: Tue., March 24, 2020

In this Aug. 13, 2019,  photo, a sign at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is posted near Richland, Wash. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
In this Aug. 13, 2019, photo, a sign at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is posted near Richland, Wash. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
By Annette Cary Tri-City Herald

The Hanford nuclear reservation moved to only “essential mission critical operations” on Tuesday afternoon, with most workers staying home at least through April 6 in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Only the minimum number of people needed to maintain safety and protect the environment, the workforce and the public will report to Hanford facilities.

The nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington employs about 9,300 workers, plus some additional subcontractor workers.

The reduction to essential operations is intended to ensure the safety of the Hanford workforce and support Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s two-week “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order issued Monday evening.

Although Hanford is considered an essential service and allowed to continue operating, limiting workers at the site will help slow the spread of coronavirus in the state, the goal of Inslee’s order

Department of Energy employees, plus the majority of its contractor and their subcontractor employees, are expected to be paid for their time away from work.

The Department of Energy site started the week in temporary planning status.

Only workers essential to site operations and some needed for the planning process reported to work Monday and Tuesday, as leadership assessed what work could be done safely during the pandemic. They also considered the site’s inventory of personal and protective equipment and cleaning supplies, with some of it in short supply across the nation.

More workers to be paid

Many of those who stayed home were paid, but there were exceptions, such as some union building trades workers and some subcontractor workers who were not paid then.

The change to only essential operations is expected to allow more employees to be paid, including building trades workers, allowing them to continue to support themselves and their families.

Full details on payments are being worked out in Hanford contracts.

Although the majority of workers are expected to stay home – no number was immediately available – thousands of employees are expected to work from home, supporting those who are needed to do physical work on site.

DOE plans to adhere to Centers for Disease Control guidelines to protect those workers required to continue to report to sites at Hanford or in Richland for essential operations.

The guidelines cover additional cleaning, social distancing and how to respond if any employee shows symptoms that could indicate COVID-19 or a positive test.

Workers can get updates on when they should return to work at, by downloading the Hanford mobile app to their phone or by calling the Hanford hotline at 509-376-9999.

The 580-square-mile Hanford nuclear reservation was used from World War II through the Cold War to produce plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Since the Cold War ended, work has been underway to clean up the radioactive and other hazardous chemical contamination left from the site’s production days. Currently, about $2.5 billion a year is spent on environmental cleanup, with work done by contractors hired by DOE.

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