WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Energy announced today that Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has assembled a group of  independent technical experts  to assess the Hanford Site’s Waste Treatment Plant (WTP), specifically as it relates to the facility’s “black cells.” The review involves the plant’s capability, as designed, to detect equipment failure and to repair failed equipment inside the WTP’s black cells.  Black cells are enclosed concrete rooms within the WTP Pretreatment facility that contain tanks and piping.  Due to high levels of radioactivity once the plant begins operations, the cells are designed to be sealed with no access by personnel over the anticipated 40-year operating life span of the plant.  The review will include the individual input of technical experts in a variety of fields.

“I will be receiving input from each of these highly capable experts to help improve our ability to detect and address any potential issues in the black cells that could arise during the course of the Waste Treatment Plant’s operational life,” said Chu.  “These experts have a reputation for developing creative solutions to highly technical issues and their independent advice will enable us to integrate worthwhile ideas into the design of the plant before construction is completed.”

The WTP is being designed and built to treat millions of gallons of tank waste from plutonium production at Hanford from the 1940s to the 1980s.  The equipment in the facility’s 18 black cells is designed to operate without moving mechanical parts that would require maintenance. DOE is now reviewing that technical approach to determine whether or not those areas can or should be accessible for monitoring and repairing equipment once operations begin.

Secretary Chu and the independent experts will begin reviewing information about WTP this week and are expected to visit the Hanford Site in the coming months. The principal purposes of the review are to assess the plant’s capability to detect equipment vulnerabilities or failures in the black cells, assess plans to repair those systems, and recommend any design changes or operational enhancements that may be needed.  The Department has named William Hamel, the Assistant Manager for Infrastructure at Idaho, as the lead federal employee to facilitate this review.  Hamel, an employee of the Office of Nuclear Energy, has in-depth knowledge and experience with black cell designs and vitrification operations. 

“We welcome this assessment and look forward to assisting with this review at the Waste Treatment Plant,” said Scott Samuelson, Manager, DOE’s Office of River Protection.  “These individuals are known for both their expertise and capability to analyze complex problems and facilities and provide sound recommendations to the government.”

The following individuals will be participating in the review:

  • Langdon Holton has over 35 years experience in radiochemical process engineering and operations, nuclear fuel reprocessing, waste separations and treatment and development of waste treatment technologies supporting programs within the United States, Germany and France.  Langdon Holton is employed by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and has been supporting DOE in its oversight of the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant.  He has academic degrees in chemical engineering from the University of California, and graduate degrees in chemical engineering and business from the University of Washington.
  • Dr. Thomas O. Hunter retired in July 2010 as President and Laboratories Director of Sandia National Laboratories.  Dr. Hunter joined Sandia in 1967 and became president in April 2005.  In May, DOE Secretary Steven Chu appointed Dr. Hunter as lead of the federal government’s scientific team that worked with BP officials to develop and analyze solutions to the BP oil spill. That work is continuing.  Dr. Hunter is a member of the Engineering Advisory Board for the University of Florida, Council on Foreign Relations, American Nuclear Society, New Mexico Technology Commercialization Council, the MIND Research Network, and the U.S. Strategic Command’s Strategic Advisory Group.  He is the author of numerous technical papers and presentations.  Dr. Hunter earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Florida, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of New Mexico, an M.S. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin, and a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin.
  • Dr. David Kosson is a Professor of Engineering, Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt University.  He also is co-principal investigator (with Charles Powers) of the multi-university Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation (CRESP).  Kosson’s research focuses on management of nuclear and chemical wastes, including process development and contaminant mass transfer applied to groundwater, soil, sediment, and waste systems.  Kosson has undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemical and biochemical engineering from Rutgers University.
  • Dr. Milton Levenson has more than 60 years experience in nuclear energy, much of it relating to nuclear safety.  His technical experience includes work related to nuclear safety, fuel cycle, water reactors, advanced reactors, and remote operations.  Levenson was at Oak Ridge during the Manhattan Project in the early 1940s.  He had first-hand knowledge of the first fatal nuclear accident in the United States (known as the SL-1 accident in Idaho).  He led the technical team that responded to the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, and he was appointed to a special Soviet commission that investigated the Chernobyl accident.  His professional experience includes research and operations positions at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Argonne National Laboratory, Electric Power Research Institute, and Bechtel, where he retired as vice president in 1989.  Levenson is a fellow and past president of the American Nuclear Society, a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and a recipient of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' Robert E. Wilson Award in Nuclear Chemical Engineering.  He is the author of more than 150 publications and presentations and holds three U.S patents.  He is also a member of the National Academies' Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board and has served on several National Research Council committees.
  • Dr. Arun Majumdar became the first Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E), the country's only agency devoted to transformational energy research and development, in October 2009.  Prior to joining ARPA-E, Majumdar was the Associate Laboratory Director for Energy and Environment at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.  His highly distinguished research career includes the science and engineering of energy conversion, transport, and storage ranging from molecular and nanoscale level to large energy systems.  In 2005, Majumdar was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering for this pioneering work.  He received his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Dr. Richard A. Meserve is President of the Carnegie Institution for Science and Senior of Counsel, Covington & Burling LLP.  He is a former chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and is a member of the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.  With his Harvard law degree, received in 1975, and his Ph.D. in applied physics from Stanford, awarded in 1976, Meserve devoted his legal practice to technical issues arising at the intersection of science, law, and public policy.  Early in his career, Meserve served as legal counsel to the President’s science advisor and was a law clerk to Justice Harry A. Blackmun of the United States Supreme Court and to Judge Benjamin Kaplan of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.  Meserve received his undergraduate degree from Tufts University in 1966.
  • Dr. Per Peterson is Professor and Chair of the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB).  He is a member of the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.  After joining UCB in 1990 as an Assistant Professor he received a NSF Presidential Young Investigator award, and most recently received the Fusion Power Associates Excellence in Fusion Engineering Award and the American Nuclear Society Thermal Hydraulics Division Technical Achievement Award.  Peterson’s research interests focus on topics in heat and mass transfer, fluid dynamics, and phase change.
  • Dr. Monica Regalbuto works in the Process Chemistry and Engineering Department at Argonne National Laboratory.  She previously served as a Senior Program Manager with the Office of Waste Processing with the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management, supporting technical risk reduction and uncertainty in the Department’s clean-up programs. From 2003 to 2008, Regalbuto served as the head of the Process Chemistry and Engineering Department in Argonne’s Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division and managed a group of 30 researchers. Regalbuto has academic degrees in chemical engineering from the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey and graduate degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Notre Dame.