DOE manager replaced at Hanford

RICHLAND — A top U.S. Department of Energy manager at the Hanford nuclear reservation has been replaced by the manager of the department’s Los Alamos Site office in New Mexico.

Olympia native Kevin Smith will take over as manager of DOE’s Hanford Office of River Protection at the end of December, The Tri-City Herald reported.

For the past 18 months, Scott Samuelson has been in charge of problem-plagued construction at the Hanford vitrification plant. He’s also been in charge of the tank farms, where 56 million gallons of radioactive waste are held in underground tanks. The management of the office has been marked with turnover, with at least six managers before Smith.

Samuelson will return to his previous Energy Department agency, the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Smith initially will focus on resolving remaining technical issues at the vitrification plant or Waste Treatment Plant, the Energy Department said. He’ll also work on establishing a new cost and schedule estimate for the plant, as well as managing and retrieving waste from the aging underground tanks.

“I tend to view changes like this as opportunities and I look forward to sitting down with Kevin Smith in short order to share my views on the role of site manager and to discuss basic information that must be provided regarding WTP in order to achieve progress and proper funding and prevent indefinite work stoppages,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., in a statement.

Thomas D’Agostino, undersecretary for nuclear security, said he asked Smith and Samuelson to take on their new roles to address some of the department’s toughest challenges.

Smith began his Energy Department career in 2004 in the Office of Environmental Management organization as the assistant manager for the Nuclear Materials Stabilization Project at the department’s Savannah River, S.C., site following a military career.

“He is well suited for leading a diverse organization with a challenging mission,” said Dave Huizenga, senior adviser for the DOE Office of Environmental Management, in a statement.

He is a graduate of the Air Force Academy with a bachelor’s degree in physics. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master of science degree in management.

The change in leadership at Hanford comes after Energy Secretary Steven Chu took a hands-on approach to resolving issues at the vitrification plant, spending several days at Hanford this September with a group of hand-picked experts.

The Energy Department has stated the plant may cost more and take longer to start operating than planned, but that a new cost and schedule cannot be developed until technical issues are resolved. Under the latest estimate available, the plant was expected to cost $12.2 billion and begin operating in 2019.

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