Hanford

Top Hanford official to leave site in September

Kevin Smith, right, manager of the Office of River Protection, discusses the Hanford vitrification plant with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, center, during a tour on Aug. 15. Smith plans to retire Sept. 30.
Kevin Smith, right, manager of the Office of River Protection, discusses the Hanford vitrification plant with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, center, during a tour on Aug. 15. Smith plans to retire Sept. 30. Courtesy Bechtel National

One of Hanford’s two top local officials will be leaving at the end of September.

Kevin Smith, manager of the Department of Energy Hanford Office of River Protection, has told employees he plans to retire after almost five years in the position. He notified Energy Secretary Rick Perry of his decision when Perry visited Hanford Aug. 15.

Ben Harp, now the deputy manager of the Office of River Protection, will serve as acting manager after Sept. 30, according to DOE.

Smith told employees that the Office of River Protection is a “strong, well-performing organization,” making the time right for him to retire from federal service.

The Office of River Protection is responsible for 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste stored in underground tanks. It also is responsible for the Hanford vitrification plant under construction at a cost expected to exceed $17 billion to turn the waste into a stable glass form for disposal.

The waste is left from the past production of about two-thirds of the nation’s plutonium for its nuclear weapons program from World War II through the Cold War.

Both the vitrification plant and tank farms are on a good path forward, Smith said.

Construction on parts of the vitrification plant were stopped in 2012 because of technical issues related to high level radioactive waste, but those issues could be resolved as soon as December, he said.

The plant also is working toward Smith’s goal of starting glassification of low-activity radioactive waste as soon as 2022, while construction and commissioning continues elsewhere on the plant.

Bringing in a new manager now would allow that person to gain a thorough understanding of the tank farms and vit plant before the plant begins operating, he said.

Leaving the position has been a difficult decision, he said, but he looks forward to having more free time to help his aging parents.

He told workers when he became manager that he wanted them to no longer measure their tenure by the number of managers they survived, but rather see his eventual departure as the normal transition of a stable, mission-focused organization.

“I hope all of you feel that I have kept that promise and leave you in a place where the next manager can seamlessly pick up where I left off,” he told employees.

The office had been marked by manager turnover, with at least seven managers since it was formed to focus on Hanford tank waste in 1998. The remainder of Hanford activities are managed by the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office, led by Doug Shoop, the other top local DOE official at Hanford.

Smith began his DOE career at the Savannah River, S.C., DOE site in 2004, following retirement from a military career that included senior leadership positions within the Department of Defense.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

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