Physicist Ernest Moniz nominated for energy secretary

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMarch 5, 2013 

A physicist who is familiar with the Hanford nuclear reservation was named Monday by President Obama as the nominee for energy secretary.

Ernest Moniz directs the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Energy Initiative, which Obama described as bringing together prominent thinkers and energy companies to develop the technologies that can lead the nation to more energy independence and also create jobs.

Like outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Moniz is "a brilliant scientist," Obama said, as he announced the nomination at the White House.

But Moniz also has previous experience with the Department of Energy, serving as DOE undersecretary during the Clinton administration from 1997 to 2001. He was responsible for DOE's science and energy programs and DOE national laboratories, including Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

In the Obama administration he has served on the President's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology.

"I worked with Dr. Moniz when he served as undersecretary of energy during the Clinton administration, and as we approach his confirmation process, I plan to speak with him directly to ensure he understands the federal government's legal obligations to the cleanup process at the Hanford site," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in a statement.

She said she applauded the nomination of Moniz to take on the difficult job of addressing the nation's long-term energy needs and important issues such as Hanford environmental cleanup.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., also plans to discuss Hanford with Moniz, re-engaging him over problems with environmental cleanup, the senator said in a statement. Wyden is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Chu has taken a personal interest in Hanford issues, spending up to 40 hours a month recently to address technical issues at the Hanford vitrification plant under construction and to learn more about underground tanks newly discovered to be leaking radioactive waste. The vitrification plant is being built to treat up to 56 million gallons of waste now held in the tanks.

"We have been advised that (Chu) is interested in continuing to work on these issues and we hope that Secretary Moniz will take him up on that offer," said Pam Larsen, executive director of the Hanford Communities, a coalition of Hanford-area local governments.

The Hanford Communities has appreciated the personal attention Chu has given to resolving issues at the vitrification plant, she said. After spending several days at Hanford in September, he organized individual teams of technical experts to look at different technical issues related to the plant's eventual safe and efficient operations.

"Moniz's experience working with this administration, his scientific and policy background, combined with his experience as undersecretary, should allow for an easy transition as he returns to the Department of Energy," said Steve Young, Kennewick mayor and chairman of the Hanford Communities Governing Board.

One of the projects Moniz oversaw as DOE undersecretary was preparation of a master plan for cleanup of Hanford groundwater contaminated by radioactive and hazardous chemical waste.

Moniz also is a supporter of nuclear energy, considering it an option to provide clean and reliable electricity. He served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, which proposed new policies for the long-term storage of used commercial nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste from Hanford and other DOE weapons sites.

He has been on the MIT faculty since 1973 and has a Bachelor of Science in physics from Boston College and a doctorate in theoretical physics from Stanford University, according to MIT.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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