Cleanup chief makes homecoming visit to Hanford

The man who is expected to be the new Department of Energy head of environmental cleanup for the nation wore a tie Monday for his first official visit to Hanford.

But David Huizenga owns a Richland Bombers T-shirt.

He already is a fan of the doughnuts at the Spudnut Shop and the Thai food at the Emerald of Siam, both at the Richland Uptown shopping center. He also knows his way around Badger Mountain from regular hikes to its top.

The Hanford visit was a homecoming of sorts for Huizenga, who is DOE's new acting assistant secretary for environmental management as he waits for Senateconfirmation to head DOE's environmental cleanup program.

But in 1985, he was starting his career as a research engineer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

"I'm really, really happy to be back," he told workers Monday at the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility.

As he spoke, trucks rumbled by every few seconds to drop off containers of waste that were being dumped at six ramps in the huge, lined landfill for low-level radioactive waste in central Hanford.

The landfill receives most of the contaminated soil and building demolition debris from environmental cleanup at Hanford.

DOE contractor Washington Closure Hanford has just completed $100 million in improvements at the landfill. It included a 50 percent increase in the landfill's size, adding the capacity for 5.6 million tons of waste, and less dramatic additions, including new support buildings, additional trucks and other heavy equipment and a new staging area for waste waiting to be dumped.

"What I saw here done with Recovery Act funding I don't have words to describe it -- just wow," Huizenga told workers.

The project was completed seven months ahead of schedule and $16.5 million under budget with no accidents, said Carol Johnson, Washington Closure president.

Huizenga also spent five minutes taking questions from the media at the landfill, covering DOE's reorganization, Hanford's post-cleanup future and the vitrification plant.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has reorganized DOE, placing the Office of Environmental Management headed by Huizenga under the undersecretary for nuclear security.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and others have questioned how the move benefits the environmental management program and how DOE will ensure that the DOE focus on environmental cleanup does not become secondary to the National Nuclear Security Administration. NNSA is responsible for the management and security of the nation's nuclear weapons, nuclear nonproliferation and naval reactor programs.

The reorganization offers the opportunity to enhance and improve the environmental management program, which includes Hanford cleanup, Huizenga said.

Undersecretary Tom D'Agostino is working on many similar issues, including improving management, Huizenga said.

On the issue of safe operations of the vitrification plant, Huizenga said safety is the cornerstone of DOE work and DOE is working closely with officials at the plant, at the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board and others.

"We will not operate the facility if it cannot be operated safely," he said. It is not required to begin operating until 2019.

Huizenga is replacing Ines Triay, who championed the formation of a clean energy parkat Hanford as land is released from theenvironmental cleanup program. Most of the 586 square miles of Hanford land still is planned to be set aside for conservation and preservation after cleanup is completed.

"Absolutely, I share her views," Huizenga said.

He will be looking carefully at proposals from Tri-City area economic development and local government leaders and also will consider other opportunities, he said.

Huizenga's visit to Hanford, which concludes today, also includes meetings with Hanford regulators, tribal leaders and other community members. Huizenga was named to the acting position July 19, and this is his first official visit to any DOE environmental cleanup site nationwide.

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