Office of Environmental Management

EM’s Impact Visible in Assistant Secretary White’s Oak Ridge Visit

June 26, 2018

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EM Assistant Secretary Anne White, second row, third from left, joins Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management early career professionals.
EM Assistant Secretary Anne White, second row, third from left, joins Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management early career professionals.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. EM Assistant Secretary Anne White visited the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) last week for the first time in her current role. 

   During a tour, White met the employees responsible for recent project successes and for positioning OREM to achieve major cleanup advances on the horizon.

   Through the work underway, the Oak Ridge EM program is nearing completion at the East Tennessee Technology Park and laying the groundwork for large-scale projects at the Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12), and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

   Throughout her visit, White focused on the most important element of EM’s mission — its people. She started the day with OREM’s senior management team. Later, she attended lunch with early career professionals, where attendees shared their perspectives on topics ranging from EM’s culture to human capital planning and contract reporting requirements. 

   Along the way, White made multiple stops at ORNL for current and planned projects. 

   Employees highlighted the progress underway on the Uranium-233 Disposition Project, which is EM’s highest ongoing priority at ORNL. With the first phase complete, crews are now working on the second phase that will downblend the remaining inventory and complete the project. White toured Building 2026, which is being prepared and retrofitted to conduct the downblending operations. 

   Her tour at ORNL also stopped at Building 3010. The walk-through of this former research reactor provided a firsthand glimpse into the risks and condition of the site’s many old, excess contaminated facilities. This area has received increased attention, and OREM has initiated several meaningful risk reduction projects at ORNL and Y-12 through recent funding from Congress.    

   On the heels of her recent trip to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), White met the workers at a different stage of transuranic waste processing. As she toured the Transuranic Waste Processing Center, she watched workers separating and packing waste to be shipped to WIPP for safe, permanent disposal.  

   On her final stop at Y-12, the Assistant Secretary got an up-close look at the ongoing site preparations for the Mercury Treatment Facility — a crucial piece of infrastructure to enhance safety and open the door for major cleanup at Y-12. 

   Fittingly, the tour ended as White passed the Manhattan Project-era Biology Complex. Funding received this year enables OREM to remove the final six dilapidated buildings that comprised the complex. Its removal will provide clean land for future Y-12 missions — providing a clear example of the value and impact EM is bringing DOE and Oak Ridge to enable future success.

Field Note from Assistant Secretary White

  Many thanks to Jay Mullis and the entire Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) team for my tour of the Oak Ridge Reservation. The tour highlighted the site’s outstanding employees along with the impressive cleanup advances OREM is positioned to achieve in the near-term. 

   The day began with a focus on the most important element of EM’s mission — its people. This is a theme that would continue throughout the day. I attended a portion of the East Tennessee Economic Council’s weekly meeting, where I was able to see many key, local stakeholders before meeting with OREM’s senior management team. Later in the day, I also attended lunch with OREM’s early career professionals. It was an insightful exchange with valuable perspectives on topics ranging from EM’s culture to human capital planning and contract reporting requirements. It was great to meet with and hear from Steve Clemmons, Vanna Gaffney, Ryan Hilmes, John Phelps, Cari Mendez-Sanchez, Michael Rigas, Jessica Speed, and Ben Williams. 

   The briefings and tours on this trip were incredibly informative. We met with contractor Pro2Serve about new software known as the “What If” tool. It allows for multiple inputs and variables, such as risks and funding levels, and provides the return-on-investment and milestone compliance for each scenario. This could prove very beneficial and assist EM with its complex planning and prioritization moving ahead. My interest in tools like these is to have all of the EM sites knitted together at the DOE-HQ level without having to make changes to existing systems if possible. This is a concept I am working to implement as part of my effort to manage the EM program with increased rigor, and more like a Fortunate 500 company.  

   We made multiple stops at ORNL. I received a progress update about the Uranium-233 Disposition Project, and was fortunate to see firsthand the work underway to prepare Building 2026 to prepare and retrofit the facility for its upcoming mission to downblend the remaining inventory of material and complete the project. We stopped at Building 3010. The walk-through of this former research reactor gave me a sense of the risks and condition of the site’s many old excess, contaminated facilities. Recently, this has been a major initiative for Oak Ridge, and we are working to develop the most impactful plans to address significant risks at ORNL assuming the Excess Contaminated Facility Initiative funding continues. One of my major objectives as Assistant Secretary is tackling and reducing the significant liabilities that remain in the EM program.     

  We also traveled to the Transuranic Waste Processing Center, where we observed skilled workers actively separating waste and packaging drums for eventual shipment to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). After my previous tour to WIPP, I was happy and proud to meet the men and women at another stage of the process — specifically Bernie Moore, Tabitha Jackson, Kim Brown, James Gaenslen, Jon Lee, and  Michael Delabar — who are helping safely prepare the waste for its permanent disposal. 

   Finally, we traveled to Y-12, where I got an up-close look at the site preparations underway for the Mercury Treatment Facility. This is a crucial piece of infrastructure that will enhance safety in Oak Ridge and open the door for major cleanup at an important national security asset. I was also able to see the Manhattan Project-era Biology Complex. OREM received funding this year to remove the final six buildings there. Its removal will provide clean land for future Y-12 missions — providing a glimpse of the value and impact EM can bring Oak Ridge in the future.

-Anne Marie White

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