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West Valley Nuclear Services (WVNS) plans to cut up to 150 salaried positions as the West Valley Demonstration Project moves into a new phase.

The company, a subsidiary of Washington Group International (WGI), is offering salaried workers an opportunity to leave with full separation benefits, said Terry Dunford, a WVNS spokesman. The affected workers have 45 days to decide whether to accept the offer.

After that period of voluntary separations ends, WVNS will decide whether "involuntary staff reductions" are necessary, he said.

WVNS currently employs about 460 people, roughly 300 of whom are salaried workers. The remaining "blue collar" employees are unaffected by the reductions plan outlined on Monday.

Dunford described the planned reductions as another step in a project whose employment has declined from a peak of 970 people. If 150 salaried jobs are cut, total employment at WVNS would drop to 310 people.

"Any project, by its very nature, has a beginning and an end," Dunford said. The West Valley project, he added, is "closer to the end than to the beginning."

Project workers are continuing the decontamination of on-site radioactive facilities and the shipping of low-level waste in preparation for decommissioning, Dunford said. WVNS manages and operates the project for the Energy Department. The site was once a commercial nuclear fuels reprocessing center.

Since January 2004, 23 WVNS workers have been transferred within Washington Group International, another 23 workers left for other opportunities, and two additional workers retired, Dunford said.

While the project is in Cattaraugus County, its economic impact is felt across the region. When WVNS still had 476 employees, they received total wages and benefits worth $38 million, spread among the four congressional districts in Western New York, according to data from WVNS, the Energy Department and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Under the offer made to salaried workers on Monday, employees who leave would receive severance pay based on their number of years of service, extended health care and retraining support.

WGI will also make efforts to transfer employees into WGI job openings locally or elsewhere, Dunford said. "The skill sets here are in demand in other parts of the country."

WGI has also established a regional office for its Washington Safety Management Solutions subsidiary in Orchard Park. WGI hopes to use that office to tap into other business opportunities with government, industry and institutions.

Rep. Randy Kuhl, R-Hammondsport, whose district includes the West Valley project, said he opposes the planned job cuts at WVNS.

"These layoffs are unnecessary and are the direct result of the Department of Energy refusing to work with the state of New York to agree on the future of the site," Kuhl said in a statement.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement that she will continue to work with other members of Congress "to ensure that West Valley has the necessary funding to complete this important work."

Michael Waldron, an Energy Department spokesman, defended the department's decisions concerning West Valley.

"As the work is completed on the site, the work force and skill set needs also change," he said.

Making adjustments in the size of the work force as that work progresses represents the best use of taxpayer dollars on the project, Waldron said.