DOE chooses vit plant manager

The Department of Energy has picked Bill Hamel as its project manager for the Hanford vitrification plant, completing the new Hanford DOE leadership team for the project.

Hamel, the assistant manager for infrastructure at DOE's Idaho Operations Office, has first-hand knowledge of the trouble shooting of the vitrification plant's technical issues.

In addition to previously working at the plant, he served as the federal coordinator for Energy Secretary Steven Chu's technical review of the vitrification plant's black cells. Over the summer, Chu handpicked a team to study issues and then spent several days in the Tri-Cities with the team and Hamel in September.

Hamel, whose title will be assistant manager for the vitrification plant project, will fill the position that was held by Dale Knutson through May. Knutson, a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory employee, served as DOE project director for the plant from May 2010 until his contract expired in May 2012.

Rather than renewing the contract, DOE had Scott Samuelson, manager of the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection, fill in as acting federal project director since May.

Samuelson also is leaving Hanford. At the end of December, he will be replaced by Kevin Smith, most recently manager of the DOE Los Alamos Site Office in New Mexico.

Hamel will start his new position at the end of January and will be responsible for the design, construction and commissioning of the vit plant, which DOE says is the world's largest and most complex radioactive waste treatment facility.

The $12.2 billion plant is being built to turn up to 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste into a stable glass form for disposal. The waste, now held in underground tanks, is left from the past production of plutonium at Hanford for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

When DOE announced in August that Hamel would serve as the lead federal employee to help with Chu's technical review, it said in an announcement that Hamel "has in-depth knowledge and experience with black cell designs and vitrification operations."

A decade after construction started at the vitrification plant, questions remain about its safe and efficient operation. DOE has said it may not be able to meet the current projected cost of $12.2 billion for the plant or start operating the plant as legally required in 2019 but cannot revise the cost and schedule estimates for the plant until technical issues are resolved.

Chu's team helped develop a plan announced last month to create a series of new teams to focus on technical issues, including keeping high-level radioactive waste well mixed in vessels in the plant to prevent a criticality or buildup of flammable gases. The teams also will look at erosion and corrosion of tanks and piping during the 40-year expected life of the plant and address potential issues with black cells, areas of the plant that will be too radioactive for workers to enter after the plant begins operating.

Now, construction on key parts of the plant have been stopped until technical issues are resolved.

"Bill's extensive experience in nuclear facility design, construction andoperations will be valuable as we continue to prepare for (vitrification plant) operations," Samuelson said in a statement.

As an assistant manager at DOE's Idaho office, Hamel oversaw all nuclear operations and capital projects in support of the Idaho National Laboratory, including the Advanced Test Reactor Complex, the Materials and Fuel Fabrication Complex and laboratory facilities.

Previously, Hamel was the engineering division director for the Hanford vitrification plant and was responsible for engineering design and process flow sheets. He also was DOE's high level waste projects team lead for the West Valley Demonstration Project in New York, where his work involved the design, construction, start-up and operation of the project's vitrification facility.

He has 26 years of experience in nuclear facility operations, engineering and project management for DOE and private sector engineering firms, according to DOE. He has a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y.

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