Low unemployment rates in California softened the blow for 547 employees of a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory uranium enrichment project. The conclusion of the 26-year laser-based project affected technicians in lasers, optics and electronics; engineers and designers in optics and fiber optics; and mechanical designers and engineers, quality assurance engineers and materials coordinators, among others. Nearly 300 of those employees came from nine contractors that supported the project, including 162 from Allied Signal Inc. in Morristown, N.J.; 36 from OnSite Engineering and Management Inc. in Alpharetta, Ga.; 21 from Bechtel National Inc. in San Francisco; 21 from BWX Technologies of Lynchburg, Va.; and 11 from Parsons Engineering Science in Pasadena, Calif. By early July, some had already been rehired. Others were still awaiting reassignment within their companies. "We've re-employed 25 percent of our employees," said Tom Enriquez of OnSite Engineering, adding that the firm expected to have all its employees in new jobs by the end of August. Highly skilled people in mechanical design and analysis were expected to be back to work in new positions almost immediately. Too expensive to continue The move to reassign employees came after USEC Inc. decided to terminate the Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation program at Lawrence Livermore. The Bethesda, Md.-based energy company sells enriched uranium and managed the program for the US Department of Energy. After concluding a review of the laser-based technology used in the program, USEC decided that nagging technical problems would require too much money to overcome and would drive up the cost of new plant construction. "USEC is transitioning its employees into other jobs," said Elizabeth Stuckle, a company spokeswoman. Stuckle said that although some of the project's 36 employees have been given pink slips, the company hopes to find internal positions for many of them after they shut down the project in the next one to two months. Included are optical designers, technicians, engineers and physicists. Another 223 people worked directly with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Jeff Richardson, a laboratory spokesman, said that management intended to reassign those employees to other jobs within the laboratories. The group included engineers, technicians, physicists and computer scientists. Fortunately, numerous industries in the region use laser technology in other applications.