Babcock & Wilcox Company has completed the planned layoffs of about 100 employees in its mPower segment, which designs and engineers small nuclear reactors, according to a company spokeswoman.
Nearly three-quarters of those laid off worked mainly at the Lynchpin Industrial Park in Lynchburg and the Center for Advanced Engineering and Research in Forest. There was a potential loss of more than 200 employees from mPower, according to a WARN notice sent by B&W as required by the Worker Readjustment and Training Notification Act. But the company could shed more jobs in the near future.
The layoffs occurred June 16, according to B&W spokeswoman Aimee Mills.
Competitive severance packages and outplacement assistance are available to laid-off employees, “in accordance with B&W policies,” according to an email from Mills.
Fifty employees were placed in other B&W business units and an extended WARN notice for 90 employees was approved through the end of July. The fate of those 90 people depends on negotiation results with mPower’s major source of funding, the Department of Energy and others, like the Tennessee Valley Authority, for which B&W was building the reactors.
B&W originally announced the possible layoffs in April after more than a year of struggling to find investors for the mPower project.
We fully expected the [Nuclear Power Generation] world to really be in the upswing at this time,” said Nat Marshall, human resources generalist at B&W. Marshall said the Fukushima Nuclear Plant disaster in Japan from the 2011 tsunami played a big role in nuclear energy’s decline.
“So public perception really had a big role in this,” Marshall said. “It’s just scary.”
The B&W segment’s operating income was $81 million in 2013. In the third quarter of this year, spending will be pared down to $15 million annually.
Bob Bailey, executive director at CAER, said he has seen a reduction in workforce at the facility, but “that big domino has still not [fallen].”
If B&W ends its lease with CAER, Bailey will be left finding a vendor for the steam loop generator there, a highly specialized piece of equipment.
But “at this point, their lease has not changed,” he said. “And they have not notified me of any intent [to change that].”
Bailey said B&W has to have the steam generator for the design and certification for its mPower segment, “so it is a critical item.”
Bailey went on to say B&W is “going to do everything they can to keep that in place. Even if that means finding somebody else to operate it.”
Office space at CAER, which is leased out to different companies, will become available.
“I’m not worried about that,” Bailey said.