Richland — The head of the Hanford tank farms announced his retirement to employees Wednesday afternoon after 42 years in the nuclear field.
Mike Johnson, president and project manager of Washington River Protection Solutions, will work through June.
He will be replaced by Lyden "Dave" Olson, the president and project manager of Savannah River Remediation at the Department of Energy site in South Carolina.
Johnson plans to stay in the Tri-Cities, where his wife, Carol Johnson, will continue as president of Washington Closure Hanford, another DOE contractor. He said he will be available to do part time work for URS Corp., the owner of Washington River Protection Solutions with EnergySolutions.
"There are lots of things I haven't done in 42 years," he said.
He plans to be active in the Tri-City community, including continuing his involvement with the Columbia Basin College Foundation Board and Delta High School.
"Mike has been integral to the River Protection Project's achievements made over the past year and a half," Kevin Smith, manager of the DOE Hanford Office of River Protections, said in a statement.
Johnson came to Hanford in May 2011, bringing experience with tank farms from work at Sellafield Facility in the United Kingdom, Savannah River and the Idaho Cleanup Project. In January 2012 he was named acting president of WRPS and became president in March 2012.
He is responsible for 56 million gallons of radioactive waste that is being transferred from underground single-shell tanks to double-shell tanks until it can be treated for disposal.
The tank farms have received national attention in recent months, as six single-shell tanks have been discovered to be leaking and a leak has been discovered within the walls of DOE's oldest double-shell tanks. All were past their design life, in some cases by decades, before Johnson took over.
During Johnson's tenure, three of Hanford's 149 single-shell tanks were emptied within a year, which had not been done before at the site. WRPS set safety records and used a robust new robotic arm, the Mobile Arm Retrieval System, Smith said.
Johnson said his goal was to improve efficiency when he was named president and made progress toward that goal. WRPS set a target in the last half of 2012 to save $4 million, but saved $10 million because of worker input, he said.
In addition, workers reduced the time needed to prepare for the transfer of waste among tanks by 45 percent and increased the number of transfers last year by 300 percent, he said. The transfers are needed as tanks are emptied and to manage the limited space in double-shell tanks.
"It's been my privilege to lead such a talented team," he said in a memo to employees. They improved radiological protection and dramatically reduced maintenance backlogs, he said. They also expanded operational expertise as the tank farms work toward becoming a round-the-clock operation for the start of the vitrification plant, which will treat the waste.
Labor negotiations have been tough, but he's been proud of the way managers and workers have responded, Johnson said. Union negotiations have been under way at Hanford, including WRPS, for about a year and a half, and Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council workers have been without a collective bargaining agreement since March.
DOE faces what Johnson called a challenging deadline to have the 16 single-shell tanks in the group called C Tank Farm emptied next year. "Big obstacles have to be knocked down" to meet the deadline in a court-enforced consent decree, he said.
Challenges include technical issues, such as making sure that gas releases within the tank are handled safely, and developing innovations to empty tanks quickly, he said.
WRPS is preparing to install in its second Mobile Arm Retrieval System in a tank, he said. This one will be equipped with a vacuum system to reduce the liquid needed to move the waste toward a pump.
DOE support, congressional effort to obtain money and knowledgeable subcontractors all contributed to successes at the tank farm. Regulators have been fair, but challenging, he said.
Olson will bring experience with waste tanks to Hanford from Savannah River.
"In his current position as president of Savannah River Remediation at the Savannah River Site, he manages a complex, integrated set of radioactive liquid waste facilities," Johnson told employees. "His experience and successful leadership at SRR will transition well to his position as president of WRPS."
Educated as a chemical engineer, Olson has held management positions at Savannah River since 1981. Previously he was deputy project manager and operations manager for Savannah River Remediation. He has more than 30 years of experience in government nuclear facilities.
In Savannah River he has served on education boards and the local United Way board.
w Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews