Hanford official leaving; to be replaced by manager from Los Alamos

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldNovember 21, 2012 

One of Hanford's two top Department of Energy managers is leaving and will be replaced by the manager of the DOE Los Alamos Site Office in New Mexico.

Kevin Smith, a native of Olympia, will take over as manager of DOE's Hanford Office of River Protection at the end of December. Scott Samuelson, the current manager, will leave then.

Samuelson has been in charge of the problem-plagued Hanford vitrification plant and the tank farms, where 56 million gallons of radioactive waste are held in underground tanks until it can be treated.

The management of the office has been marked with turnover, with at least six managers before Smith.

Samuelson shares oversight of Hanford nuclear reservation environmental cleanup with Matt McCormick, manager of the second DOE Hanford office, the Richland Operations Office.

Samuelson came to Hanford about 18 months ago from DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration. He will return to that agency to work on unspecified key project management initiatives, according to DOE.

Smith initially will focus on resolving remaining technical issues at the $12.2 billion vitrification plant, formally called the Waste Treatment Plant, where construction has been slowed or stopped at key facilities, according to DOE.

He also will concentrate on continuing construction on the remainder of the plant not affected by technical issues, establishing a new cost and schedule estimate for the plant and managing and retrieving waste from Hanford's aging underground waste tanks, according to DOE.

"This is, without a doubt, a challenging time to take over at the Office of River Protection," said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., in a statement.

"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," Hastings said.

Smith now is responsible for administration of the Los Alamos National Laboratory management and operations contract and all federal activities on the site. The current deputy manager of the Los Alamos Site Office, Juan Griego, will serve as acting manager when he leaves.

"I have asked Scott and Kevin to take on these new roles in order to align the talent we have with some of our toughest challenges," said Thomas D'Agostino, DOE undersecretary for nuclear security, in a statement.

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

"Kevin has nearly 20 years of experience leading major organizations throughout his distinguished career in the Air Force and with the Department of Energy," said Dave Huizenga, senior adviser for the DOE Office of Environmental Management, in a statement. "He is well suited for leading a diverse organization with a challenging mission."

Since working at Savannah River, Smith also has served as acting manager for DOE's Kansas City Site Office and the deputy manager for the Y-12 Site Office at Oak Ridge, Tenn.

He held senior leadership positions with the Department of Defense, including director of safety for Air Combat Command. He was responsible for Air Combat Command's flying, weapons and industrial safety programs for 100,000 personnel worldwide.

In addition to being an F-16 Fighter Squadron commander and commander of 49th Operations Group at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, he flew the F-4, F-16 and F-117 Stealth Fighter.

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

Samuelson, in his new role, will report to Bob Raines, the National Nuclear Security Administration's associate administrator for acquisition and project management.

"Scott is a proven project manager," Raines said in a statement. "He will provide important insight and guidance as NNSA continues improving its project management of complex nuclear facilities."

The change in leadership at Hanford comes after Energy Secretary Steven Chu has taken 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.

A decade after construction started at the plant, questions remain about its safe and efficient operation.

DOE 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.

The vitrification plant has been without a federal project director since this spring when DOE did not renew the loaned executive agreement that had Dale Knutson of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory serving as the plant's federal project director. Samuelson has been serving as acting federal project director while the position was advertised.

The DOE Office of River Protection was formed in 1999 when work to empty and treat the radioactive waste in 177 underground tanks was split off from DOE's Richland Operations Office. DOE has called the Office of River Protection work its most complex environmental cleanup project nationwide.

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