DOE seeks vit plant project director

April 11, 2012 

The Department of Energy is looking for a new federal project director for Hanford's vitrification plant.

It does not plan to renew a loaned executive agreement that has Dale Knutson of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory serving as federal project director for the Hanford vitrification plant.

Knutson, while remaining a PNNL employee, has served as DOE project director since May 2010. The agreement expires next month.

"The department is going through a deliberative process to identify the potential candidates for this position," Scott Samuelson, manager of the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection, said in a memo to employees Tuesday.

Samuelson praised Knutson, saying he established a strong project team and successfully transitioned the project focus from design and construction to construction and commissioning.

Knutson also worked with a DOE and contractor team to start extensive testing and analytical programs to resolve key technical issues, Samuelson said.

"We appreciate Dale's service in this role and wish him the best in his future endeavors," Samuelson said in the memo.

Shortly before Knutson was named project director, DOE changed the reporting structure for the position, giving the project director a direct line to officials at DOE headquarters, apparently catching Congress by surprise.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., inserted language into the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 saying DOE must notify Congress of any changes to the Office of River Protection responsibility or reporting structure.

In February DOE clarified that Samuelson is accountable for all aspects of Office of River Protection work, which includes the vit plant.

Knutson oversaw difficult years at the vitrification plant, with the Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board advising more work to resolve technical issues that could affect the future safe operation of the plant and an improved nuclear safety culture to encourage employees to raise technical concerns that could affect safe operations.

Knutson also was pulled into the periphery of whistleblower lawsuits. Plaintiff Walter Tamosaitis, the former research and technology manager for the plant, maintained that a deal had been created to return Tamosaitis to work at the plant but that Knutson participated in overturning that decision after hearing that Tamosaitis was a whistleblower.

Knutson indicated in a legal proceeding that he did not tell Bechtel or its subcontractor to take any specific action with Tamosaitis.

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