WASHINGTON, D.C. – Current and former leaders and colleagues past and present gathered to mark the 30th anniversary of EM achievements and progress in cleaning up the environmental legacy of the nation’s nuclear production and research.
At a September 10 celebration, DOE Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar recognized EM’s federal employees and contractors for their ongoing dedication to a demanding job, acknowledging the hurdles they’ve overcome and their commitment to continued progress in the years ahead.
“Three decades ago, the task seemed almost insurmountable — the cleanup of 107 sites must have seemed really daunting,” Dabbar told guests. “It’s been a long way, and we’re not just looking back, but we’re looking forward to the future. It’s about our commitment not only to the progress which has happened, but where we see it going forward.”
EM was established in 1989 to lead the cleanup of the nation’s most hazardous radioactive sites, a legacy of World War II and Cold War nuclear weapons production and government-sponsored nuclear energy research. EM has completed cleanups at 91 of the 107 nuclear sites across the country, and the 16 sites that remain are some of the most challenging.
In his address, Dabbar spoke of how EM is incorporating new technologies, deploying partnerships to share knowledge and gain insights, and collaborating with local communities to advance its work.
“There have been some amazing things that have been done around technology. We should be proud of the last 30 years,” Dabbar said, citing examples such as drones, 3-D printing and unique collaborations that have accelerated progress at the sites. He also applauded success stories such as cleanup at the the Fernald site in Ohio and the local partnerships EM has established in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
“The program has come very far, the Under Secretary said. “A tremendous amount of progress has been made.”
The 30th anniversary event drew more than 200 people to DOE headquarters, including U.S. Representative Dan Newhouse of Washington state and former EM Assistant Secretaries Ines Triay, Carolyn Huntoon, Thomas Grumbly and Jessie Roberson. Also in attendance were Suzanne Rudzinski, EM’s former director of the Office of Policy, as well as Joyce Connery, a member of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board who previously served as the White House’s Director of Nuclear Energy Policy.
To further mark the anniversary, EM produced a new video that shares the history of the program’s creation and the important work it has accomplished over the past three decades.
A panel discussion featuring veterans of EM and moderated by EM Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Todd Shrader looked back at key moments in the program.
“One of the things that’s really important that we all appreciate is that the journey to get here is built on the work of many, many people before and going forward for the complex and for the cleanup,” Shrader said.
James Owendoff spent more than 20 years with EM in posts including Acting Assistant Secretary, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, and Chief Operations Officer among other roles. He recalled working with many of EM’s Assistant Secretaries over the years, thanking each for their contributions to the program
Owendoff, who presently is DOE Chief Risk Officer, said his most memorable highlight was the palpable excitement the night before the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) opened, once all regulatory approvals had been secured and the site could begin receiving shipments of waste.
Mell Roy, Chief Counsel and Assistant Director of the Office of Chief Counsel at the Environmental Management Consolidated Business Center in Cincinnati, noted how sites have succeeded in bringing together diverse groups with different perspectives, from local communities to state and federal regulators.
In nearly 30 years at EM, Roy said she has seen sites transition from being an “idle curiosity” to being more integrated with their communities, something she believes should continue as EM works toward turning sites back to their communities for multipurpose uses.
Thomas Johnson, Jr., Associate Deputy Manager of the Savannah River Operations Office, said EM has become much stronger in recent years, particularly through innovations in the contracting process.
Among Johnson’s memorable highlights was the injection of funds into nuclear waste cleanup through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. He also emphasized how EM has partnered with local colleges and universities to reach the next generation of workers.
“There are no easy answers for our sites. If it was easy, someone else would be doing our jobs,” Roy said. “We’re here because we take on the challenge, and in taking on the challenge we recognize there are unique aspects of each of our sites and unique aspects to the different waste management challenges we have, and we’re going to take those challenges and move forward.”
Click here for more information on the EM program and 30th anniversary highlights.