DOE cleanup head nominee says Hanford 2nd priority

Tri-City HeraldMay 13, 2014 

Monica Regalbuto

— Hanford workers deserve the best protective equipment available and access to their records related to chemical vapors, Monica Regalbuto said at a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Committee members, including Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., questioned Regalbuto as the nominee to be assistant secretary of energy for environmental management. It is the top DOE position responsible for Hanford and other defense cleanup sites.

The position was last permanently filled by Ines Triay almost three years ago. Since then, David Huizenga has been acting assistant secretary and more recently has carried out the job’s duties as senior adviser to DOE’s Office of Environmental Management.

“I myself am a rad worker,” or radiological worker, Regalbuto told Cantwell in response to a question about chemical vapors. “So I suit up and put on a respirator at work. I certainly recognize it is a complex job once you are fully suited.”

No worker should be exposed to vapors, she said.

If confirmed, she would learn the specifics of the situation -- 28 workers have received medical evaluations for possible exposure to Hanford waste tank vapors this spring -- and fully address the issue, she said.

She ranked Hanford cleanup as the second of three top priorities for DOE’s environmental cleanup project.

The top priority is restarting the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, a national repository for transuranic waste that has stopped work because of a radiation incident earlier this year.

Hanford’s transuranic waste is mostly debris contaminated with plutonium. No Hanford waste was being sent to the repository at the time of the shutdown, but more Hanford waste is planned to be sent there.

She ranked Hanford second because of the large amount of work remaining and the Savannah River, S.C., site, where radioactive waste is being glassified, as third.

Great challenges remain in DOE environmental cleanup, and innovation will be required, she said. During the first 25 years of cleanup of nuclear weapon sites nationwide, the work focused on “low-hanging fruit,” she said.

There have been cost overruns in DOE cleanup and other programs, but in the future, DOE plans to “move forward with a much more thought-out program,” she said. Construction will not start on new projects until DOE is ready, she said.

Regalbuto talked briefly about her childhood in Mexico, saying her family sacrificed to send her to private school, where she became interested in science and math.

At the time she started college in Mexico, there were few women studying engineering, and job opportunities were limited, she said. Since then, she has supported and led efforts to increase opportunities for women and minorities, she said.

She became a U.S. citizen and earned a doctorate at Notre Dame.

She now is the deputy assistant secretary for fuel cycle technologies with DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. Before that, she was a senior program manager with the Office of Waste Processing in the DOE Office of Environmental Management.

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

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