Central Hanford cleanup leader to leave

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJuly 13, 2012 

John Lehew, who has led central Hanford environmental cleanup for the past four years, will be leaving the nuclear reservation, he told employees Thursday.

He will be replaced as president of CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. by John Fulton, a long-time Hanford leader and Mid-Columbia native.

Lehew said he plans to move to Denver to take a position as a CH2M Hill senior vice president and pursue other opportunities for the company's nuclear business group.

Since 2010, Fulton has been living in the Tri-Cities and working as senior vice president of CH2M Hill's nuclear business group, responsible for its projects at the Department of Energy and in Canada and Japan.

A transition of several months is planned, with Fulton taking over Oct. 1 at the start of the next fiscal year for Hanford. The contractor employs 1,700 workers, but some layoffs are planned later in this fiscal year.

Fulton is a seasoned leader and has the confidence of Matt McCormick, manager of the DOE Hanford Richland Operation Office, McCormick said. Fulton has led projects of comparable complexity across the DOE complex successfully and safely, McCormick said.

Performance on the central Hanford project already is high, and the challenge will be to take it to the next level, Fulton said.

He'll be responsible for clean up of ground water contamination at Hanford, including operation of the 200 West Ground Water Treatment Facility, which is expected to start up this summer to clean a 25-square-mile plume with multiple radioactive and chemical contaminants.

He'll also continue work to get highly radioactive sludge out of the K West Reactor basin and moved to central Hanford to allow cleanup along the Columbia River to be completed.

His third challenging project will be to finish the cleanup and demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant, where about two-thirds of the nation's weapons plutonium was produced during the Cold War.

He's familiar with the Plutonium Finishing Plant, after serving as a department manager for process engineering there as his first job at Hanford in 1979. He graduated from high school in Benton City and earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering at Washington State University.

Since then, he's worked at multiple Hanford projects, with a few years spent at other DOE sites, including serving as project manager of the Idaho Cleanup Project from 2008 to 2010. At Hanford, he was president of CH2M Hill Hanford Group -- the former Hanford tank farm contractor -- from 2007 to 2008.

He's looking forward to reconnecting with Hanford workers, the Hanford Advisory Board and the tribes, he said.

The switch in jobs between Lehew and Fulton will give Lehew a chance to bring experience he's gained at Hanford and elsewhere to the corporate level, Fulton said.

Fulton said he's near the end of his career and wants to give opportunities to others. He expects to be asked to make a two-year commitment to leadership of central Hanford cleanup.

Lehew was named to lead central Hanford cleanup as part of the proposal that won CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., the central plateau project in 2008, as former contractor Fluor Hanford's contract expired.

Shortly after CH2M Hill won the contract, Lehew also was given the task of performing $1.3 billion of additional environmental cleanup work at Hanford with federal economic stimulus money.

"No contractor had more money or got more work done," McCormick said.

Completing the American Recovery Act cleanup in a safe and compliant manner is a "huge feather in his cap," McCormick said.

Lehew sent a message to employees Thursday saying "you are cleaning up some of the most contaminated facilities and challenging waste streams facing the nation at nuclear decommissioning sites."

"From day one, you have demonstrated that CHPRC brings the professional and technical skills it takes to get this work done safely, on time and budget," he said.

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