The Department of Energy has a moral and legal obligation to clean up Hanford, Ernest Moniz told DOE employees on his second day as energy secretary.
But the nationwide cleanup program has made tremendous progress in the last 20 years and that is often forgotten, he said.
"It's also not surprising that some of the really hard ones are left to do and it's going to be more than 20 years to finish that program," he said, in an employee town hall meeting Wednesday that took questions from employees across the nation.
During his confirmation questioning, concerns about Hanford played a large role, but DOE has a plan to resolve issues, he said. Teams are looking at technical issues at the vitrification plant, where some construction has stopped until more is known.
He pledged open communication with workers when asked about his commitment to safety and the integrated safety management system used at Hanford and other projects.
"I want transparency," he said. "No balls are to be hidden. No messengers will be shot, assuming that they are coming forward in a constructive manner, which I think is the case, typically."
Issues brought forward need to be responded to quickly, he said.
"All I can promise is if you talk to us, we will listen," he said.
Low morale was brought up by two workers, with one saying that pay freezes, negative press and criticism from Congress have contributed.
Moniz said he could not address budget limitations. But he will work as hard as the workers he was addressing and would listen with other DOE leaders to them and gather ideas, he said.
If people do their best on an exciting DOE agenda that is important to the president and the country, and "that leads to low morale, we got to talk," he said.
Video of the employee town hall is posted at energy.gov.