DOE undersecretary to make first Hanford visit in new role

The Department of Energy undersecretary responsible for Hanford environmental cleanup since the department's reorganization will make his first visit to the nuclear reservation next week in his new capacity.

Thomas D'Agostino, the undersecretary for nuclear security and administrator, will visit the Tri-Cities to speak at the 2011 Integrated Safety Management Champions Workshop in Kennewick, which is expected to draw 1,200 people from across the nation.

The conference, Monday through Thursday, also has scheduled other high-level DOE officials to speak, including Glenn Podonsky, the chief of health, safety and security. The conference is organized to promote safety at DOE work sites.

Other speakers will include Richard Picciotto, the highest ranking firefighter to survive the World Trade Center collapse a decade ago, and Jim Whittaker, the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest and former chief executive of REI.

D'Agostino has been responsible for the Office of Environmental Management since July, when Energy Secretary Steven Chu moved the office, which is responsible for Hanford, under his leadership. D'Agostino also leads the National Nuclear Security Administration, which was formed within DOE by Congress in 2000 for the management and security of the nation's nuclear weapons, nuclear nonproliferation and naval reactor programs.

Chu said reorganization allows knowledge and skill to be shared among officials dealing with nuclear materials. It also assures that DOE is applying lessons learned across all of its projects.

However, the value of the reorganization has been questioned by long-term observers of management changes at DOE.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., has questioned how the reorganization will benefit DOE's environmental program and criticized what he called an apparent "snap decision" announced with no consultation with Congress, the state of Washington, the Tri-Cities or other public near Hanford or near other DOE sites.

D'Agostino has some familiarity with the Tri-City area, because of the work being done for the National Nuclear Security Administration at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

During his visit next week, he is scheduled for a lengthy tour of Hanford, with stops at the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility, the Plutonium Finishing Plant, the new central Hanford water treatment plant under construction, the tank farms holding 56 million gallons of radioactive waste in underground tanks, the vitrification plant and historic B Reactor.

He also is scheduled to take a trip to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain, now closed to the public as Hastings works on legislation to allow limited public access. He will attend a reception with community leaders, meet with DOE Hanford leadership and hold a meeting for all Hanford federal employees.

D'Agostino was sworn in four years ago as under secretary and continued that appointment under President Obama. Previously, he was deputy administrator for defense programs and directed the stockpile stewardship program, which employs more than 25,000 people.

He started his career in the Navy after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, achieving the rank of captain. He also served with the Navy as inspector general and the deputy chief of naval operations for submarine warfare in developing concepts for new attack submarine propulsion systems.

More information on the Integrated safety Management Champions Workshop is available at www.ism2011.com.