Bechtel National’s leader for construction of Hanford’s massive vitrification plant is leaving the project, she told employees Friday.
Project director Peggy McCullough will be replaced by Brian Reilly, a 35-year veteran of nuclear construction, effective Dec. 20.
The Department of Energy has contracted with Bechtel to build and start up a plant expected to cost more than $17 billion.
The plant, formally called the Waste Treatment Plant, will treat up to 56 million gallons of nuclear waste for disposal. The waste, held in underground tanks, is left from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.
Reilly is assigned to guide the plant through its first start-up phase, which will begin turning some of the low-activity radioactive tank waste into a stable glass form as soon as 2022.
Work to also glassify high-level radioactive waste at the plant has been delayed by technical issues, and the plant is not expected to be in full operation until 2036.
The start of low-activity radioactive waste treatment requires continued construction of two other facilities and completion of the Low Activity Waste Facility, which stands seven stories high and is the size of a sports arena.
“Brian’s decades of experience in construction and startup of commercial and government nuclear project will be a great asset at the WTP as the project continues its crucial next phase,” said Barbara Rusinko, president of Bechtel’s government services and nuclear power global business unit.
Reilly has led the design and construction project for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Uranium Processing facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., since 2014. It is a $6.5 billion project that will replace aging national security facilities that process enriched uranium.
Under Reilly’s leadership 90 percent of the project’s design had been completed and construction should begin next year.
“Brian is the right person for the job,” McCullough said in a message to vit plant staff Friday. “He has extensive experience in completing and turning over project in the nuclear industry.”
She called him a strong leader and seasoned project manager in the DOE complex.
He started his career as a planning engineer in 1980 and took on project management and construction supervision at several nuclear power plants. He rose through the ranks at Bechtel Power Corp. and then served as program manager for the international environmental business line in Bechtel Systems and Infrastructure before being assigned to the Oak Ridge project.
He has been a Bechtel senior vice president since 2010.
McCullough noted that Reilly takes over just as the DOE Hanford office in charge of the vitrification plant — the Office of River Protection — also has changed leadership. Brian Vance became manager on Nov. 6 of the office that contracts with Bechtel National.
McCullough’s tenure at the project coincided with the leadership of Kevin Smith at the Office of River Protection. Smith has been the longest-serving manager in the DOE position.
The two brought consistency to the vitrification plant project, said Carl Adrian, president of the Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC).
When McCullough was named to lead the project, questions had been raised about the future safe operation of the plant and how safety issues were being addressed in whistleblower lawsuits.
I will take many lessons and good memories with me into this next chapter of my career.
Peggy McCullough, Bechtel National project director for the vitrification plant
Plans for the plant also were being questioned as former Energy Secretary Steven Chu focused on technical issues.
“She righted the ship and got the whole project on track,” Adrian said. “In my mind she was a very strong leader.”
McCullough has positioned the vitrification project well for Reilly to step in, Rusinko said. Rusinko called starting up a radioactive waste treatment facility “a multi-year, rigorous, deliberate process.”
McCullough, who has led the vitrification plant project at the Hanford nuclear reservation for nearly four and a half years, will move to Bechtel’s headquarters in Reston, Va., to lead the company’s nuclear, security and operations business line.
McCullough told staff that in the years she has been at the vit plant, workers have transformed its nuclear safety and quality culture and met all milestones to date in Bechtel’s revise contract. They are close to resolving technical issues related to parts of the plant that will handle high-level radioactive waste, she said.
“I will take many lessons and good memories with me into this next chapter of my career,” she told workers.