Hanford will have a single top manager for the first time in 20 years

The Hanford nuclear reservation will return to a single top Department of Energy manager for the first time in 20 years.

Brian Vance currently manages the Hanford Office of River Protection and now also will serve as the acting field manager of the Richland Operations Office.

Anne White, the DOE assistant secretary for environmental management, made the announcement of the new management plan Wednesday afternoon.

Doug Shoop, the manager of DOE’s Richland Operations Office, is retiring from federal service this week. Vance will take over Shoop’s management role in addition to his current job Feb. 15.

Congress has ordered the two DOE offices at Hanford to remain separate at least through 2024.

The DOE budgets for the two offices, which this year comes to a combined $2.5 billion, will continue to be separate.

Brian Vance is the manager of the Office of River Protection at Hanford for the U.S. Department of Energy. Noelle Haro-Gomez Tri-City Herald

But with no announcement that a permanent search for a Richland Operations Office manager will be undertaken, Vance’s acting leadership role appears to be a test of whether there could be advantages to combining leadership of the two offices.

In 1998, former Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., created the DOE Office of River Protection to bring focused attention to one of the nuclear reservation’s most complex issues — 56 million gallons of radioactive waste in underground tanks, some of which have leaked or are prone to leaking.

The offices’ responsibilities include the $17 billion vitrification plant that has been under construction since 2002. It’s meant to provide a way to contain the waste in a stable glass form for disposal.

Other environmental cleanup work and the operation of the site — including utilities, roadwork and information technology — are the responsibility of the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office.

The 580-square-mile Hanford nuclear reservation is contaminated from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program. Courtesy Department of Energy

The 580-square-mile site is contaminated with radioactive and hazardous chemical waste from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

The two offices and the contractors they oversee will require a greater degree of coordination as Hanford gears up to begin treating some radioactive waste at the vitrification plant by a court-ordered deadline of 2023, White said in a memo to DOE cleanup complex employees..

Coordinating work of 2 offices

The leadership structure White is initiating will allow coordination between the two offices, while allowing them to remain separate and with distinct assignments and capabilities, she said.

During the time that Vance oversees both DOE Hanford offices, he will provide executive level technical expertise, direction and guidance, White said

Each office will continue to have a deputy manager providing day-to-day leadership, she said. Joe Franco has the position at the Richland Operations Office and Ben Harp has the position at the Office of River Protection.

“I have full confidence in Brian, Joe and Ben’s leadership abilities and their commitment to lead the Hanford offices into this next phase as we move towards actual tank waste treatment and cleanup completion in many areas,” White said in the memo.

DOE has moved to combine functions of the two Hanford offices in recent years.

Richland Operations Office workers have been moved from the Richland Federal Building to Stevens Center complex in Richland, where Office of River Protection employees work.

Some functions of the two offices have been combined, including sharing a joint chief financial officer and some legal, security and infrastructure employees.

Vance has nuclear leadership background

Vance has led the Office of River Protection since November.

Previously he was a project director at CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., responsible for leading the team developing the remotely operated equipment that will be used to clean up the highly radioactive spill beneath the 324 Building just north of Richland.

He has more than 30 years of leadership experience on nuclear-related projects.

He was a submarine officer with the U.S. Navy from 1984 to 2009, when he retired as a captain. He had successively responsible leadership positions for projects, according to the DOE announcement last fall.

Shoop Purex Analysis.JPG
Doug Shoop, manager of Department of Energy Richland Operations Office at Hanford, is retiring. Tri-City Herald File

More recently he has held project management roles in major commercial nuclear projects. He was a principal project manager for Areva NP from 2009 to 2013 and then was director of product development for Westinghouse Electric Co. before joining CH2M in 2016.

White thanked Shoop for his “exemplary service” to DOE and the nation.

He led the Richland Operations Office starting in July 2016 and served as deputy manager of the office for eight years before that.

Senior staff writer Annette Cary covers Hanford, energy, the environment, science and health for the Tri-City Herald. She’s been a news reporter for more than 30 years in the Pacific Northwest.