Hanford worker returns as new leader

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldNovember 26, 2013 

Scott Sax named Washington Closure Hanford president.


Washington Closure Hanford has named Scott Sax, who has worked on some of Hanford's most challenging projects, as its new president and project manager.

Sax starts work next week, replacing Carol Johnson, who will retire in December after a 30-year career in the nuclear industry.

He'll lead Washington Closure as it nears completion of its $2.4 billion, 10-year contract to complete most cleanup of Hanford along the Columbia River.

"I am glad to be home," he said.

He left the Tri-Cities about two years ago to serve as director of spent fuel management at the Sellafield project in the United Kingdom, a project led by URS Corp. Washington Closure also is URS company with partners Bechtel National and CH2M Hill.

Sax is familiar with cleanup along the Columbia River after working as the Washington Closure director of operations programs from 2006-08. He then joined Washington River Protection Solutions, the Hanford tank farm contractor, as its chief operating officer and later was in charge of emptying radioactive waste from leak-prone single-shell tanks.

He earlier worked on the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant and K Basin projects, and in total has 29 years of experience in the nuclear industry.

One of the major challenges he'll face at Washington Closure is bringing Hanford's first closure contract to completion. Hanford environmental cleanup contracts usually expire with a new contractor given the job of continuing decades-long cleanup projects and most workers making the transition to the new contractor.

But Washington Closure's assignment was to complete most cleanup in 220 square miles along the river by Sept. 30, 2015. It's in the ninth fiscal year of the contract and has completed almost 90 percent of the work. It has demolished 294 of 321 buildings and cleaned up 447 of 590 waste sites and burial grounds.

Washington Closure began a slow ramp down of its work force in 2011 as portions of environmental cleanup were completed. Workers were told earlier this month that it planned to have 698 workers in December including 368 nonunion workers and 330 union workers. That's a gradual decrease of about 150 workers over the last year.

The drop in the work force is expected to accelerate in the coming year with more than 300 jobs cut.

By December 2014, Washington Closure expects to employ 380 workers, including 231 nonunion and 149 union workers.

Sax's challenge will be to "hold the team together and keep it tight," he said.

"I think morale is at a very realistic level," he said. "Carol has done a fantastic job focusing people and building trust."

Workers needed to have trust that they will be able to find the right kind of jobs as their work ends and trust that if they have key skills that are needed to the end of the contract they can stay at Washington Closure and not be penalized, he said.

Washington Closure also has some high-hazard technical projects ahead of it, and workers will need to remain focused to continue the contractor's excellent safety record, Sax said.

It's preparing to lift the Plutonium Recycle Test Reactor and the 340 Vault, each weighing an estimated 1,100 tons, from below ground and then move them to a landfill for low-level radioactive waste in central Hanford. Some unexpected radioactive contamination was found beneath the vault.

It also is assigned cleanup of the 324 Building, where demolition was delayed after finding a past leak of concentrated and highly radioactive cesium and strontium beneath the building, and the 618-10 and 618-11 Burial Grounds, where a mix of radioactive waste was dropped down pipes buried vertically in the ground and caissons.

That work is not legally required to be completed in 2015 and some of it is expected to be finished after the planned end of Washington Closure's contract. DOE has indicated it could extend Washington Closure's contract to cover a limited scope of work past fall 2015, but no decision has been announced.

Sax's goal is to complete the Washington Closure projects with a reputation for efficiency, honesty and hard work, he said.

Since starting the move back to his family's house in the Tri-Cities last week, he's gone pheasant hunting three times. Getting out by the river has been a good reminder of why Washington Closure's work to clean up and restore land along the river is so important, he said.

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

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