Our Voice: New vit project manager piques our optimism

September 3, 2013 

The nuclear waste vitrification plant at Hanford.

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE

Peggy McCullough is the new project manager at Bechtel's vit plant.

She has a big job.

The project is high stakes and plagued with variables.

While vitrification is a proven science, figuring out exactly type of radioactive surprise is in those leaky tanks is nothing short of mystic.

How exactly does one process "sludge?"

And funding -- for any budget -- is a crap shoot from year to year.

Despite those two huge questions marks strung out on the welcome mat, McCullough is optimistic.

And rightly so.

She is bringing an arsenal of experience that will undoubtedly prove useful.

She's been with Bechtel since 1988. Before that she was with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Two assignments ago, from 2003-06, she was deputy general manager of Bechtel SAIC, the management and operations contractor for the Department of Energy's Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear repository project. While there, her team dragged a 20-year project over the completion line.

She then moved to Bechtel Systems and Infrastructure.

Her most recent assignment was in Australia at the Daunia Coking Cole Project, where she brought her project to 95 percent of completion -- under budget and ahead of schedule.

She is rightly proud of her accomplishment at Yucca, although she only was there for three years and it was 20 years in the making. And while 95 percent completion of anything is impressive, there still is more work on the Australian project.

Managers for projects of this caliber tend to move around. It keeps them from getting burned out and brings a fresh perspective to complex problems.

It's hard to guess whether she will be here when this project comes on line.

But her presence here now helps us to share her sense of optimism. Couple the new project manager with a new Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, who impressed McCullough with his timely visit to Hanford soon after his appointment.

Moniz is expected to announces a plan by fall to address some technical issues that are in limbo.

We've long been supportive of the vit plant. The current storage system at the tank farm is working, but it has serious problems.

It won't work longterm.

The new vit plant must work. It must be completed, but it must be done right. It cannot fail.

If we wait until we have all the answers, the plant never will process a single glass log. We can't wait until the technology is "perfect," but we must make sure it is "good enough."

Like we said in the beginning, it's a big job.

Welcome, Peggy McCullough, to the Tri-Cities.

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