Keith Klein’s Interview


Cindy Kelly: Okay. I’m Cindy Kelly. I’m in Richland, Washington, and it’s
Monday, September 10, 2018. I have with me Keith Klein, and my first question
for him is to say his name and spell it. Keith Klein: Keith Klein, K-l-e-i-n. Kelly: Terrific. Klein: I passed, huh? Kelly: Good job. Any rate, I’ve known Keith for a long time,
which has been really fun. Klein: Oh, thank you, Cindy. It’s obviously great to see you again. It’s been a long time. I was born in Morgantown, West Virginia. Grew up in the ‘50s. That was during a time when, as a schoolchild,
we were doing the duck-and-cover drills. There was the great Russian menace, Soviet
menace, and things nuclear were—at least from the eyes of someone that’s growing
up and in grade school and so forth—something of mystery, of awe, of intrigue. I think, at least subconsciously, therein
kind of the spark of what ended in—for me—a career in dealing with things nuclear. From there I ended up going to Cornell University
as electrical engineer undergraduate. Then signing up with what was then the Atomic
Energy Commission—the Atomic Energy Commission, which still, I think, just resonated in my
gut—with a program that was going to create more fuel than it used. It was the Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor
program, and they actually had an intern program that was very appealing. I did not come from a wealthy family, and
they would agree to pay for continuing education. Which essentially resulted in a Master’s
degree, be paid a salary, be assigned with a contractor, you get to work in D.C., and
I would in turn owe them several years of work in exchange for what they would be investing
in me. I worked for a year in the Washington, D.C.
area. I should say, this is following the Atoms
for Peace initiatives. “We’re going from atomic swords to ploughshares.” Nuclear energy was a good thing and it had
the promise of what was—at least in my mind—clean, secure, indigenous source of energy. The idea of it making more fuel than it used
had a great deal of appeal. Working with the Atomic Energy Commission
on breeder reactors and being able to continue education and so forth had a great appeal
to me. I ended up going to the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology. [I] got a degree in nuclear engineering, a
Master’s in nuclear engineering there. I had an assignment out here at Hanford constructing
the fast-flux test facility. I was actually assigned to a contractor. My supervisor was a contractor. It was out in the field constructing what
to me, as a nuclear engineer, just a very beautiful machine, both physically and from
an engineering standpoint. Oh, it was beautiful, polished stainless steel. All these workers coming together, coordinating
something coming up out of the ground. Huge pieces of equipment, just finely precision
engineering and design, controlling this very concentrated source of power. It was a very exciting time for me. I worked here [Hanford] for over a year, and
then was back to Washington, D.C. and working in the [U.S. Army] Corps [of Engineers] branch
for some fellows that you knew were there during the birth. I worked for [Admiral Hyman] Rickover and
others that were harnessing this power. Dixy Lee Ray was Chairman of the Atomic Energy
Commission, and she lived in a trailer in a parking lot outside where the Atomic Energy
Commission headquarters were with these two Irish wolfhounds. You’d see them walking, or the guards walking
them. It was a fascinating time. I never thought I’d really make a career
working for the federal government, but the opportunity to work with people that are in
on the ground floor and to learn from them, to see them, to be a part of this. “You’re working at the Atomic Energy Commission!” It just resonated. It felt good. I felt good about what I was doing with the
breeder program. Of course, as you advance and learn more,
socially and otherwise, your perspectives change in so many different ways. The breeder program—the anti-nuclear movement
was starting to rear up. Three Mile Island happened, and other things
that ended up greatly curtailing the dream and promise of commercial nuclear energy and
demand for nuclear fuel. Which then came back to the breeder program,
as well as concerns about reprocessing and proliferation of this nuclear technology. Because breeder reactors depend on separating
out plutonium from the fuel and putting it into new, fresh fuel rods. That’s how it bred more fuel than it used. But that technology, separating plutonium,
can also be used by rogue nations or whatever to construct nuclear weapons. But in any event, I had a good foundation—education
in nuclear matters, radiation, some health physics and so forth. I remember it was Jimmy Carter’s presidency,
and the breeder program basically took a dive. Prospects of that [the breeder program] continuing
diminished. I started thinking, “Well, maybe this is
a good time to leave the government and start doing some other things.” But as it was, another opportunity found me
there. It had to do with deep geologic disposal,
and this would be disposing of the waste that was coming out of the commercial reactors
as spent fuel. I said, “You know, that could be an interesting
thing to do before I make my exit.” I got involved with that, which was again
a keenly interesting education. Because you’re working with geologists and
looking at a number of different sites across the country, and how can you isolate these
wastes for thousands of years. Still a noble cause. This is another good thing. It appealed to the Boy Scout in me. But working with geologists, and recognizing
that this is a lot depending on the science of being able to predict what’s going to
happen thousands, tens of thousands of years into the future. Considering what’s a swamp now can be a
desert later and vice versa, a lot’s going to depend on science, technology, modeling
that really hasn’t been developed yet. Geologists, in my mind, were still trying
to figure out what happened in the past, let alone getting them to predict what’s going
to happen in the future. It was going to take longer than I had patience
for, at least at that point in my career. I was getting ready to leave, and then another
opportunity arose. This had to do with at-reactor storage and
things like monitored retrievable storage, given that the timeline for developing geologic
repository was going to be quite long. I said, “That could be interesting, about
transporting nuclear materials and waste and other good things.” I ended up getting involved in that, and developing
technologies for dry storage at reactors. I set up a demonstration at Virginia Power
and Duke [Energy] and others that basically led to these dry storage casks and other things
that are around, and some ideas for how you could capsulate them in these dry storage
casks that eventually get transferred to a repository. After I said, “Okay. I’ve done that for a few years, it’s time.” Then I did a little stint in new production
reactors, and that was to replace the tritium reactors, tritium production. It was national defense, and I still had these
roots in nuclear engineering and fascination with that. A position was actually with safety and quality,
so it’d be overseeing the safety and comparing the safety of a few different reactor designs. I did that for a couple of years. Then again, saying, “Okay. It’s really time to move on here.” I really ended up spending a lot more of my
professional time in the government than I had ever anticipated or actually wanted. But then environmental management happened. I progressed from the Office of Nuclear Energy
to—which was controlling the waste situation—the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management. To what was to become NNSA, National Nuclear
Security Agency, and then back to the Office of Environmental Management—where I met
you, Cindy. First, I had a job in the safety aspects of
it, the Office of Safety and Quality and there were a few other things in the title there. Or maybe it was even the storage and transportation
[Nuclear Fuels Storage and Transportation], a few different positions there. But eventually, after a few years, I was asked
by Tom Grumbly, who’d been named Assistant Secretary [for Environmental Management],
to be what wa affectionately known as EM-3. It was like an executive officer, chief of
staff—not the deputy, but the third person. That’s where I got to know you [Cindy] and
a number of others, [0:12:00] and develop a respect for Tom Grumbly. And kind of see how things operated at that
level of the government, where Tom had come from, where he was an aide to Al Gore when
Al Gore was a senator. Lots of fascinating insights into how things
worked on the [Capitol] Hill, the dynamic between the executive branch and the legislative
branch. The agencies, budgeting, policy, politics—the
whole interface between society, technology, and dealing with things on that scale. That was another fascinating learning experience. I got to meet a number of interesting, good
people who brought in—like you, Cindy—and a number of others. Then Rocky Flats happened. There was a raid at Rocky Flats [by] the FBI
[Federal Bureau of Investigation] in the late ‘80s. They were struggling to go from a production
mission, producing the pits, to a cleanup mission. The Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board
had been established, and had been very critical of a number of things that were happening
at Rocky Flats. Mark Silverman had been named the manager
out there, and there were just a lot of issues. Being as close as I had become to Tom Grumbly
and others, he asked me to go out there to serve as Silverman’s deputy and help try
to sort through and resolve a lot of these issues. My deal with Tom was, “Yeah, I’ll be glad
to do that, but if Mark and I hit it off and it goes well, I’d like the option to be
able to stay and continue out there.” Basically, “I’ve been here in D.C., creature
of headquarters, for all this time. I really want to go out in the field and get
some experience on that end, and then probably end my federal career.” He agreed. I became the deputy out there at Rocky Flats. I was there four or five years. We were dealing with stabilizing plutonium
and dealing with regulators and any number of management, technical, political issues,
labor, just the whole panoply of things. Secrecy, coming out of secrecy. A lot of very dangerous materials. Plutonium in an unstable state is very reactive
and pyrophoric, and it was in liquid states, solid states, you name it. If not managed correctly, things could go
critical. A lot of safety, health physics, nuclear safety,
fire, you name it. The buildings were not getting any younger,
obviously, too. You’re constantly dealing with seals degenerating,
people not knowing necessarily where things are, losing some institutional knowledge as
people retire. Regulators putting more and more pressure
on, and budget challenges and so forth. Long story short, I was there for four years. Jessie Roberson, who was named the manager
at Rocky Flats when Silverman retired, she asked me to stay on as her deputy, which I
did. We developed a good working relationship. Then in late 1998-1999, it came to a point
where there was limits to what we could do cleaning up Rocky until WIPP [Waste Isolation
Pilot Plant] got open. George Dowes had left WIPP and there were
some issues there, operational issues. Obviously, legal issues were continuing. Jessie and Consultations to the Headquarters
folks ended up volunteering me to go down and be the acting manager at Carlsbad [New
Mexico], and try to get this thing over the finish line and open it up, so we can ship
transuranic waste down to WIPP. They did it with my agreement. Another good thing to do and an interesting
challenge, so I did that. I’ll never forget that night when we got
the first shipment in. It was 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. We ended up having to delay it the night before
because of fog. There were TV cameras and antics by the opponents
of WIPP. They’re putting things in the road outside
of Santa Fe, and last-minute attempts through the courts, including naming Bill Richardson
and myself as a public menace in the State of New Mexico, because we wanted to move this
plutonium out of Los Alamos. We had to send lawyers out at midnight to
deal with filing for an injunction to stop the shipment. You can’t dream these things up. But in any event, we finally got the shipment
in, and it was just one of those moments that’s seared into my memory. I’m on the phone coordinating things after
midnight, early hours of the morning with the state patrol and the governor’s office
and other things like that. We finally got things coordinated. The shipment was on the road, and is approaching
Carlsbad. The mayor of Carlsbad and myself got into
one of the local police vehicles and met the convoy with the first cask of transuranic
waste outside of Carlsbad. We followed it, or I think maybe led it into
the town. I don’t recall which. But the people in the City of Carlsbad were
out there on the streets at 2:00, 3:00 a.m. in the morning, clapping and cheering and
holding signs. We went through the town and then drove out
to the site in this convoy. There the workers at WIPP were all there,
and they’re clapping and cheering. They’d been working on this for 20 years. It was an achievement of something that had
just been so many years in the making. I have the picture at home with me and the
mayor and the city fathers there, clapping and cheering. It was an awesome, awesome thing. From there, Secretary [of Energy] Richardson
ended up asking me if I would come out and be the manager at Richland. It wasn’t something I had thought about,
but considering that I had worked here in the early ‘70s building FFTF [Fast Flux
Test Facility], I was somewhat familiar with the town. Of course, there were all sorts of issues
about Hanford. I didn’t know what was true, what was not,
what was going on. But it was viewed as the toughest site in
the environmental management complex. I don’t remember which act it was that ended
up creating a separate Office of River Protection just to do with the tank waste. Just to backtrack a second, when I was asked
to go to WIPP from Rocky Flats, I said, “Well, I would be interested in doing it, but I don’t
want to stay down there indefinitely.” They said, “Okay, well, just get it open
and find a replacement, and all’s good.” “Okay, I’ll give it my best shot.” When I was down there and getting it open,
the next thing became, well, replacement. That’s where I was talking to a number of
people, including Pete Lyons, who was on Senator [Pete] Domenici’s staff and so forth. The name of Ines Triay came up. Of course, Ines has since made her mark, but
I met her in a hotel in Santa Fe. I interviewed her, and this was obviously
a very, very smart lady. She was the one that worked at the Los Alamos
end to make sure that the first waste coming into WIPP had no RCRA [Resource Conservation
and Recovery Act] constituents. We do it clearly under the Atomic Energy Authority
Act and not have to involve the state and all the permits and the things that went along
with their authority under RCRA to regulate mixed waste. It was a key part of our strategy to get it
open was, “This first one is just going to be pure, simple.” Ines was responsible in Los Alamos end for
doing that. I knew her by phone and some other things,
working with her to get those first shipments ready for shipment to WIPP. Ines was named to be the permanent—my successor
at Carlsbad, and did a fantastic job then getting that production ramped up and started
getting those cask shipments, transuranic waste in there like clockwork. Back to Richland. My job at Richland, according to Bill Richardson,
was—again, not a whole lot of instruction. It was, “Figure out what the problems are,
fix them, and help set up this Office of River Protection. Tell me what you need.” “Okay. Here we go again.” I came out here. Did my homework. I learned a number of things between Rocky
and WIPP, worked with Tom Grumbly about how things work. Richland was—Hanford—indeed a very complex
place. A lot of history. My goodness, you look at what was done here
and timeframes and the workforce, and just the politics of Hanford. It’s just amazing. Going back to my Atomic Energy Commission
roots and so forth, the first full-scale nuclear reactor, B Reactor, is out here. There’s a few holy grails of nuclear technology
out here. I came with a deep respect, appreciation for
what was done here, good and bad. I don’t think you do things that were done
here without—particularly under the pressures of world war and things like that, where things
are just moving fast. There’s a premium on action, and you don’t
have the luxury of maybe analyzing things to the degree that we do now. I can talk some more about that later, if
we want to talk about challenges of getting on with dealing with these wastes. We set up this Office of River Protection. Dick French was to be my counterpart as the
first head of the Office of River Protection responsible for dealing with the tank waste. Obviously, that was a major part of the issue
here, and to me that’s, “This is good. It makes the rest of the job more manageable,
someone else just focusing on tank waste.” But the site is very much integrated in terms
of labor agreements, people, just even physically. It can be hard to just take something and
say, “That’s totally separate.” A lot of interfaces there, things that need
to be worked together. Not to mention, there’s still very significant
challenges dealing with things besides tank waste here. There was the spent fuel, which had issues. 2,000 tons of spent fuel that was just left
in limbo after they stopped reprocessing in the late 1980s, ’88, I believe. That was deteriorating and crumbling in the
spent fuel pools. Just as at Rocky Flats, plutonium that was
in the production line, various stages of production—liquids, solids, you name it—several
tons of plutonium that needed to be dealt with. It didn’t get the same attention as the
tanks, maybe because of security issues on classified and so forth. Then obviously, so much contaminated liquids
had been poured into the soil column. There was solid waste buried in various places
and stages during the history of Hanford. Obviously, a lot of regulatory concerns. This is the late ‘80s, and I’m sure you’ll
hear from others and Michele [Gerber] a little more detailed knowledge on this. But the environmental laws put into place
a new consciousness and transparency into the weapons production complex. Both what had been done, right and wrong,
and what needed to be done to clean things up and to come into compliance with more modern-day
environmental standards. Here, there was an agreement put in place
called the Tri-Party Agreement signed in 1989, that provided a framework for basically coming
into compliance with RCRA and CERCLA [Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and
Liability Act, or Superfund]. I’m sure you’ll have heard more from people,
the regulators or experts on that. There were timelines, timeframes established
in this agreement, which was backed by law and the courts. I would say, a lot of those agreements and
plans were agreed upon without things being thought out in detail. “How are you going to do that?” As much based on faith as plans, as detailed,
realistic plans in terms of what funding is going to be available, when it’s going to
take place. We typically are optimistic when we think
out how long it’ll take to do something. It’s more like, “What it should take,”
rather than, “What it actually will take.” We think can do it for a lot less that it
ends up actually doing. Face it, when you’re dealing with all the
“unknowniums” that we deal here with Hanford, you don’t know the existing conditions. Oftentimes, it’s not until you get in there
and explore and—for lack of a better term—play with these things that you really understand
what needs to be done to either stabilize them, to treat it, to package it, to move
it. There was a lot of reconciliation that needed
to be done between the promises established under this Tri-Party Agreement, these commitments,
and reality. A lot of parties involved. Therein comes, in my mind, one of the biggest
challenges of dealing with nuclear waste at a place like Hanford. It comes down to communications and alignment. The Tri-Party Agreement is an agreement between
three partiesL the Department of Energy, the Washington State Dep artment of Ecology, and
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The way the environmental laws work in this
country, on the federal side, the Environmental Protection Agency has lead responsibility. In some cases, for some categories of waste,
they can delegate that responsibility to the states. The Comprehensive Environmental reclamation,
liability—CERCLA, Comprehensive Environmental Response— Kelly: And liability. Klein: —Liability Act. There’s another C in there, I think, Conservation,
maybe. Environmental Response, Conservation and Liability
Act. Anyway, it establishes a framework that includes
designating sites as being on the national priority list and naming responsible parties
for who’s to clean up all these sites. Not just nuclear, but chemical, toxic sites
around the country. So, that was the EPA’s main authority. Hanford was named one of these four sites
on the Superfund list, this national priority’s list. The Resource Conservation Recovery Act, RCRA,
deals a lot with the treatment, storage, and disposal of chemical waste. That primary authority ends up with the states
to implement, and the states have their own laws. The Atomic Energy Act, the regulation of nuclear
materials was reserved for the federal government. Therein lay part of the problem. For example, at Rocky Flats, that was all
done under the cloak of secrecy. Of course, it was all nuclear weapons and
sensitive nuclear materials. You’re dealing with tons of plutonium, when
all it takes is pounds to create a weapon. You’re guarding and safeguarding not only
sensitive information that could be used by malefactors or the bad guys to create weapons,
or countries to create weapons. You’re also dealing with quantities of special
nuclear material sufficient to create hundreds, thousands of weapons. Obviously, a great need to protect this, both
the information and the materials. So, a cloak of secrecy around that. But that kind of goes counter to then oversight
of, “How are you conducting your processes, in a way, and how’s that affecting the environment?” Again, this is during a time when it’s an
enlightened consciousness in the impacts of man’s action on the environment. Whether it’s air pollution, water pollution,
chemical pollution, you name it. How do you bring these nuclear weapons and
industrial complex into the sunshine and compliant with these laws—recognizing it’s been
operating all these years under its own kind of internal laws and priorities? The states in some cases—in most cases—designated
an authority to deal with the lower levels of activity of waste. To regulate within their boundaries the low-level
waste and some of these mixed wastes, where some of these wastes have both a radioactive
or nuclear waste constituent as well as a chemical waste constituent that is clearly
under the jurisdiction of the state. You have the EPA, the Washington State Department
of Ecology, and the Department of Energy, each with some responsibilities and authorities,
liabilities for cleaning up these wastes. DOE is obviously the performer, the one that
needs to do it, and the EPA and the states are the ones with the hammer saying, “If
you don’t come into compliance in a certain timeframe, the hammer’s going to come down
on you. Our responsibility is to enforce.” We’re reconciling the need for enforcement,
and coming into compliance with decades of doing things without the kind of structures
and laws that were put into place to safely treat, store, dispose and remediate these
sites, facilities, and materials. That in a nutshell is what the Tri-Party Agreement
was about. It is an agreement between the three parties
of how we’re going to do this over tens of years, basically. There was a fair amount of optimism built
into this that I came to appreciate and understand. Coming here, I sought out people that I thought
could advise me well as to who are the key players, what are their concerns, how does
this place work, what’s in the way of progress, and what constitutes success. Obviously, the Hanford area had become socioeconomically
quite dependent, too, on the work out at Hanford. The Pacific Northwest National Lab is a lab
that was developed to support the work that was done here. Sciences like health physics did not exist. What are the effects of radiation on cells,
human or animal? How do these radioactive constituents move
in the environment? How are the transport of these contaminants? What does it take to stabilize, to protect? The Pacific Northwest Lab was kind of the
science research arm of a lot of these efforts while the weapons and nuclear materials were
being developed and produced here. It became an entity in and of itself, and
went on to become, in its own right, world-renowned and doing research in a number of areas—energy,
national security, biology, mathematics, computer science, so forth—a lot of things that kind
of grew out of the technologies, things that were done here to produce weapons material. I came here, doing my homework, talking to
people, trying to understand the lay of the land, the priorities, challenges. One of my lessons learned at Rocky Flats was—even
though most of us in the Atomic Energy Commission that came up through it, or I’d say a lot
of us engineers with technical backgrounds—the challenges dealing with cleanup go well beyond
the technical. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency of us
technical types to think you can solve anything with a new widget, new technology and other,
so forth. But at Rocky Flats, I learned that it’s
really not the case. To my mind, it’s people that clean up these
sites, it’s not technologies. The technology part is actually, in my mind,
the easy part. It’s getting people aligned for some common
objectives and goals that they can understand, they can feel good about doing, that can be
rewarding, and can meet their personal needs as well as their ethical, moral needs. It’s very hard to achieve that alignment. People come into these things with their own—in
some cases narrow—interests. In some cases, there may even be other agendas
at play. There is lots of money involved, and whenever
there’s lots of money, there’s just lots of issues and other things that come into
play. The department operates these activities,
these sites through big contracts—multibillion-dollar contracts, with big incentives for getting
things done or there are fees to be paid and big penalties if you don’t do it well. This can result a lot of pressures, good and
bad. How the contracts are designed can have a
huge bearing on how work is done or not done. Similarly, the concerns and needs of the regulators
need to be kept in mind constantly, their needs to come in compliance. We don’t have an open checkbook. The government is constantly needing to manage
its resources to prioritize. I’d say that there is clearly a lack of
uniform perspective on the risks of the various facilities, materials, and conditions out
here. Depending on your background, education, experience,
etc., you come at this from different perspectives. It’s very easy, in my experience, to build
on the fear of what people don’t understand and to sensationalize, to dramatize, to scare
people. It’s very understandable. As a nuclear engineer, I’m far less concerned
about plutonium and radiation than I am about chemical and biologics, because I don’t
understand them. But from my standpoint, the nuclear materials
are easy to detect, predictable. Detection and monitoring is a big part of
managing these things. You need to know what you’re dealing with,
where it is, what kind of timeframes, how reactive and so forth. You’re basically dealing with three, four
kinds of radiation—your alpha, beta, gamma neutrons. We’ve developed a lot of personal protective
equipment, procedures and so forth to deal with that. But from the outside world: these are nuclear
wastes, these are million-gallon tanks filled with dangerous nuclear materials that can
last forever. Plutonium, the stuff of nuclear weapons and
bombs—of this, that and the other thing. Of course, the popular media loves the drama
and the sensationalization. We saw it at Rocky Flats, Building 771, billed
as “the most dangerous building in America.” I was there at the time, and I’d never thought
of it as being the most dangerous building in America, but I could see how ABC News or
whatever could characterize it as such. Who’s to say otherwise? I certainly don’t know what other buildings
there are in America, what kind of hazards there are. A lot of different perspectives and dynamics
that drive the cleanup. You get the press, the media involved, lawyers,
emotions. This translates to pressure on our elected
officials, senators, congressmen. They raise it up to the highest levels, the
Department of Energy. Next thing you know, the hammer’s coming
down, “Why are you doing this, and what’s that about, and what’s going on?” You spend a lot of time trying to communicate
and put things in perspective. But it’s hard. So again, the challenge of cleanups in my
mind, a lot comes to aligning people up on the objectives, what the priorities should
be. Contracts incentivize the appropriate behaviors
of people and particularly as it translates down to the workers on the ground level. In my mind—physically, you want to clean
these places up, it depends on the people that are out there in the field. The workers that know the facilities, that
understand the materials. I learned this at Rocky Flats. The lesson learned there is, if we look out
for them, they’ll look out for us. If they don’t think we’re looking out
for them, they’re going to protect themselves, as any of us would. It was not until at Rocky Flats that changed
the nature of the contract, such that it allowed the alignment with the workforce and included
alignment with the regulators. It was a different environment, so it was
in some cases easier to do it at Rocky Flats than it is here. But we’ve seen similar contracts at Fernald
[Ohio], and talking about the river corridor here because I think we achieved it here with
the river corridor. But getting the contracts right can have a
dramatic effect on how people behave and the ability to align all the people that need
to be aligned to do these jobs safely, efficiently, productively. Without all the sensationalism and external
influences that can just suck up an inordinate amount of management time and energy trying
to deal with. Time and energy that really should be focused
on supporting the workers in the field and getting the job done—a good return for the
taxpayer dollars and making sure we’re protecting our workers. The more bureaucracy and different players
and others that are involved, the greater the challenges in achieving that alignment. I can dovetail into some other kind of lessons
learned here along the way of what it took to do things done and what has changed or
is changing. This even goes back to the beginnings—when
I think about how fast B Reactor was built, how fast T Plant, the reprocessing canyons
and others were done under this wartime environment without computers, without cell phones. But with a lot of people aligned, because
we needed to win the war and our troops were dying overseas. There were clearly evil forces at play, from
our standpoint. Amazing things done in amazing periods of
time. But in hindsight, not necessarily the way
we’d do things today. Environmental consequences to be paid is the
result, and hundreds of waste sites, burial grounds, facilities to be remediated. But there was a concise, controlled command
control structure with a workforce that was willing and believing and trusting for the
most part. Over time, much has changed. When I came here in late ‘90s, early 2000s,
I felt good about the authorities that I had, the trust that was placed in me and the trust
I had in my counterparts back in Washington, D.C. We had good communications, and I was authorized
to take risks that I thought were reasonable and measured. I would consult—I certainly wouldn’t do
things unilaterally—but to get the spent fuel stabilized and moved, plutonium stabilized
and moved, we had to move pretty fast. I did not have time to go through a lot of
elaborate processes to seek approval. It’s so much easier for people to say no
than it is to say yes, when you’re dealing with these materials, particularly if there
isn’t an environment of full trust and cooperation. That is something that seems to have evolved
and changed with time. I’m not at all clear that the current people
have the same kind of authorities that I had to do things, or if that constructive environment
still exists. There’s always going to be tensions and
debates and arguments, but usually, the way our government works—and God bless it—these
things can get aired in an honest forum. People that are authorized to make decisions
can make informed decisions based on a variety of inputs and considerations. You need to trust in their judgement and integrity
in moving forward. But it’s also important that the basis for
decisions get communicated, understood and be supported. I found that if you just unilaterally do things,
it doesn’t provide time to develop that alignment all the way from top to bottom. One of the first things I did here in coming,
is brought together leadership around and say, “Okay, what are we trying to do here?” That ended up with a vision that I went around
the site—standing in the back of a flatbed truck or wherever there was. And God bless Colleen French, my righthand
person helping me with it. Remember, I’m an engineer, so this is not
the kind of thing that I would actually just think up on my own of doing. But given a good idea, I’m usually pretty
good at recognizing it and taking advantage of it. What we came up with was, this group of leaders
around the site—contract and others—was, “What we’re really trying to do here is
recall the river, the plateau in the future. We’re trying to clean up along the river
corridor. These are the areas that are closest to the
river where things that get into the river, they get mobilized, transported. We want to get those things cleaned up. We want to transition the center portion of
the site to basically long-term waste management area. “That’s where the high-level waste tanks
are, all the burial grounds, other things like that that are going to take decades to
clean up. Depending on the large facilities, the waste
treatment plant, others and so forth. We basically want to clean up along the river
corridor, shrink the active footprint, clean up to the center portion of the site, and
not lose sight of the future, whatever that is. “We’re dealing with a lot of people here. A huge workforce, large socioeconomic impacts. These are the people we need to clean up the
site. We need to take care of them, now and into
the future. We can’t just ignore that and think, ‘This
is just a technical problem and we just need to hammer in technical solutions.’” That was the rallying cry I used in trying
to explain, and I’d say it was well-received. It was pretty easy to understand, to visualize. I think it has endured. We were able eventually to carve out a contract
that was focused on the river corridor, a contract that was patterned after Rocky Flats
and Fernald that provided the right incentives. I think it proved that we can do things here
in a highly productive, efficient mode. If the work scope is defined, work with the
regulators so you have records of decision, clear scopes and so forth. Basically, leave the people alone. Support the workers, and not try to second-guess
everything that’s done, when it’s done, and how. We’ve made great strides in cleaning up
the river corridor, and now there’s a new opportunity with the center portion of the
site, how we deal with that. I’m hoping my successors are able to figure
it out and put in a great set, a new round of contracts. The reality of the dangers at Hanford versus
the perceptions of the dangers at Hanford: you ask a hundred different people, you’re
going to get a hundred different answers. But I would say I probably have a somewhat
unique insider perspective as to those hazards and perspectives. In general, I think a lot of the hazards have
been overblown, over-dramatized to the detriment of actually getting on with dealing with them. In some other cases, I think they’re underappreciated. When you’re dealing with risks, you really
have to look at the full spectrum of risk, including the risk of inaction. In many cases, in my mind, the risk of inaction
can outweigh the risk of proceeding with a good solution, even if it’s not necessarily
the best solution. There’s always something that can be a little
bit better, a little bit improved. The enemy of the good can be the quest for
perfection, and basically paralysis by analysis, in which nothing gets done. For example, I look at tank wastes. The waste in those tanks vary considerably
from tank to tank. To try to apply a one-size-fits-all rule to
those tanks is, in my mind, a prescription for greatly prolonging getting on with it. That if something is in a “high-level waste
tank,” ergo it is high-level waste, is just not right. A lot of the liquids in those tanks are not
nearly as dangerous as what people think. There’s a lot of liquids. It needs to be dried out, stabilized and treated. But it’s not as dangerous as waste in some
of the other tanks that are very hot radioactively, thermally, or that may have some biological,
chemical, other constituents that could evolve hydrogen and present a different kind of hazard. That’s number one. Number two is the risk to the workers versus
the risk to the environment—risks near-term, risks long-term. In trying to compare those—yes, there’s
some risk to leaving things in the ground. But there’s also, in longer-term, in trying
to put that into perspective, how great are those risks? How is it going to get out? You don’t think it can, but we don’t necessarily
know everything. You could have climate change or whatever,
but so what if it does? Is that going to be catastrophic or manageable,
or inconsequential even? Is that risk worth the risk of sending in
workers to deal with this in the here and now? One of the things that really pains me is
spending what I consider to be extremely valuable worker capital doing things with marginal
return from a risk-reduction standpoint. Particularly, with an aging workforce as we’re
losing men and women with hands-on knowledge of what was done, how it was done, what this
valve does, that type of thing, is a terrible thing to squander. We really need to maximize utilization of
those folks while we have them. That’s very hard when you’re dealing with
66 high-level waste tanks and trying to treat them all like they’re very high-level. We could be getting on with treating a lot
of those wastes and doing it in a much more expeditious manner, without trying to necessarily—I
don’t think everything has to be put into glass, particularly if it’s a lower-activity
waste. You look at how much we have to clean out
of these tanks before we can close them and dispose of them. All these issues of risk versus risk. We’re trying to balance the cost and expense
of what you’re doing in the near-term versus the consequences of not doing it in the long-term. I think that the reality is that there are
lots of wastes already in the soil column at Hanford, above the water table. These are either purposefully disposed of,
even the facilities that are being actively managed now, the Environmental Restoration
Disposal Facility, ERDF. There are solid waste burial grounds, some
liquid waste burial grounds. Each one needs to be looked at, but the intent
is not to retrieve all those wastes. You look at the mass of what’s going to
be disposed at ERDF in the central plateau versus—well, what if we were to just get
the liquids we can out of some of these lower-activity waste tanks, grout it and leave it there? Geographically, this place is pretty close
proximity. You have this big mass in ERDF. In my mind, small amounts of radioactivity
in these lower-activity wastes that would be left there. Is it really worth the time and effort and
expense of going after that last little bit? You reach a point of diminishing returns in
dealing with these things. That’s where I think further alignment is
needed with the regulators and the community and others regarding balancing the need to
get on with stuff while we can, while we have the workers, while we have the money to get
the most productivity out of this. Airborne radiation has always bothered me
more than the stuff that’s already in the ground and stabilized. Taking down facilities, demolishing them,
I think can easily be underestimated. Facilities deteriorating like the tunnels
at PUREX and some things like that cast a light on things that need to be done near-term—should
be done near-term. The tunnels were an issue. I think it was overshadowed by all the hype
about the high-level waste tanks, when in fact, there are these other things that need
to be paid attention to, that can and should be done. It all needs to be done, but we can’t do
and don’t need to do it all, in a Cadillac sense. It pains me to see things get generalized
in a way where the worst tanks or actions get generalized, as if that’s what’s all
over. That just further slows down the process or
puts pressure on the system to clean up things to levels that are not warranted. This comes down to that it can be easy to
prey on fears of people that don’t understand and know these things, particularly by the
popular media. There are constantly people that I think are
in fact pursuing their own agendas for whatever reason, that I don’t pretend to understand. I see things occasionally and it just causes
me to shake my head, “How can they say these things?” I feel bad, too, that a significant portion
of the workforce seems to have become alienated, are not feeling cared for. There’s a lot of complex rules and laws
out there covering things like Workers Compensation and health benefits and a lot of uncertainties,
too. There are folks that have worked out here
that are genuinely sick and that need help. They’re not necessarily getting the help
and support that they need and deserve. In part, because it’s not necessarily clear
how or why they got these conditions. Could be related to Hanford, might not be
related. But the facts are that they need help, and
the system has let them down one way or another, falling between the cracks. Because of federal laws, if it’s not clearly
demonstrated as a result of Hanford, then certain programs can’t come into play. But still, there may be other programs that
can. I
If we’re not dealing well with those things, and you have new people coming onboard onsite,
they don’t understand this stuff. They’ve never worked with it. You can go on the Internet and Google a lot
of these chemicals and other things that are ten-syllable-long words, and discover these
ailments or possible ailments that no one ever heard of. You can breed paranoia, fear. It’s, “My gosh, I may be breathing these
things, and it may be affecting me. No one can tell me that it is or isn’t. I don’t know what I’m breathing, it’s
such low levels.” All these things. We really need to get on with it while we
can. Things are not going to get better with time. I think attention should be really paid to
the—more invested in getting the workers involved, even the community involved, and
a get-on-with-it attitude, and the regulators. And recognize that the quest for perfection
works against getting on with doing things. I’m convinced we have the technology and
the wherewithal to clean up this place safely and effectively, and do it in a reasonable
timeframe. It’s just people in the way. Kelly: Just people in the way. Klein: Just people. But that’s the hardest thing. People have emotions, they have feelings,
they have perspectives, histories, and who’s to say that one’s right and the other’s
wrong? We have processes and mechanisms for dealing
with these things, but they all take time. I guess it comes down to leadership and vision
and management and getting a sufficient alignment to move out on these things. My hopes and prayers are with the new administration,
that they’ll be able to figure it out. It’s complex, it’s hard, it’s tough. I have to applaud—I’m going to segue into
something different here, but it’s some points I did want to make sure I had a chance
to make before my time is up here. So many lessons learned here. So much that has been done that is just remarkable. From what can be done physically—people
are aligned in a short period of time, wartime environment—to what it took to do that. The people that were displaced, impacts on
the tribes, the folks that used to live at the Hanford town site and White Bluffs and
so forth. We have some of the most pristine shrub steppe
environment in the Pacific Northwest preserved of what was going on here at Hanford. At the same time, the materials that were
produced here were used for weapons of mass destruction. Things that happened here have changed history,
changed the lives of so many people. So many lessons learned, good and bad, and
that’s why my hat’s off to you, Cindy, and to the Atomic Heritage Foundation for
capturing as much of this as you are, as you can, so that we truly learn from these lessons. I think being inspired by all the positive
things that were done—some of the technologies that were spun out of Hanford, the good things
that continue to be done here. We can be mindful of some painful lessons
learned, the negative consequences. Reflect on—we haven’t had another world
war since World War II. Might that be because, “Okay, we have these
new weapons that really make people think twice before going so far.” Yet, the forces that drive wars are still
at play, the competition for energy, for natural resources, for land, for who knows what. We haven’t sociologically learned how to
deal with that, with poverty, with clean water. So many lessons learned, so many impacts that
you’d like to feel like they are being captured and people of the future, succeeding generations
can learn from it. Again, I just certainly appreciate what you
and the Atomic Heritage Foundation are doing to achieve that. I really appreciate what you said about the
workforce as well, and what position they’re in. Do you have any comments on the downwinders? I think you probably were out here when a
lot of those studies came, or maybe it was before you got out here. Klein: Yeah. That was before I got out here. I think the courts have done a good job at
parsing out the impacts and trying to deal with it. Although it took so much longer than it seemed
like it should’ve, than it needed to. Kelly: 24 years. Klein: Yes, yes. Eventually we get there, but again, it’s
another one of these, “Can’t we do better? Shouldn’t we be able to do better?” Well, what could we do differently in hindsight? We could be in some cases dealing with the
same thing here with Hanford tank vapors where, obviously, a lot of concern. How much of that is real versus perceived—it’s
hard to say. I mean, the vapors are real. They’re in the tanks, and all the more reason
to stabilize them and reserve the waste treatment plant as that
comes online for dealing with the worst of it. But getting on with emptying and dealing with
the residuals in as many of these tanks as we can. Myths of Hanford: I’m constantly amazed
at some of the questions I have been asked by . I remember being approached by an eye
doctor here locally, who was looking to recruit another eye doctor for his practice. This physician was concerned, was hearing
about Hanford and, “Is the water here safe to drink? Is the air safe to breathe?” This is a physician! This eye doctor asked if I would be willing
to talk to him to reassure him, and I did. The boogeyman is alive and well out there. How people get these impressions is beyond
me. Locally, I’d say our community—we all
know people that work out there. We drink the water, we accept it, we understand
it. We don’t seem to be as concerned about it
as some of the folks in Seattle or Portland or other places. Lord knows what they’re hearing and believing,
what information they have. It’s so much easier to scare somebody than
it is to—it can take years and a lot of education. Even things like—well, they detected radiation
on the air filters in some of the cars out here at Hanford. Well, there’s radiation everywhere, it’s
part of our life, you need to put that into some perspective. But from the outside world, if that gets sensationally
publicized, it’s like, “Gosh, there’s plutonium floating all around the air at Hanford
and no one knows where it is, where it’s going.” People may be thinking they’re sounding
the alarm and doing us a favor calling attention to some of the problems and challenges out
here. But it often just works against us. It just distorts perspectives rather than
adds perspective. I know it’s not the job of the media to
educate in these things. We’ve all seen how they’re more prone
to dramatize, sensationalize, get viewership and so forth. But as far as I’m concerned, the boogeyman
is alive and well and pushing the buttons in Olympia and elsewhere. Our elected officials, they react to the voices
that they hear. They hear from ones that are vocal, that are
getting attention, and maybe the loudest, squeakiest voices. A lot of those voices are not from here locally,
yet they seem to have as much of a vote in what happens here and how it happens as anybody. I think there’s obviously very good people
in the regulatory shops and the political offices and so forth. But it’s just a sign of our times. The country’s divided. People get their information from various
places, and it’s easy to subscribe to conspiracy theories and not know who to believe and what
to believe. To me, all these things are all the more reason
that we need to really get on with cleaning this place up and doing it in a realistic
manner. And doing what we can when we can as safely,
productively, efficiently as we can. And, not let
the quest for perfection keep us from getting on with what we really need to do. One of the things I’d love to do, Cindy,
and I’ve proposed it. Tom Fitzsimmons and I—he was head of Ecology—we
initially butted heads. But the more we talked to each other, I think
the more we understand where each other was coming from and what was driving us. The more we tried to put ourselves in each
other’s shoes and think about, “How can we get our respective agencies past this and
do some good?” I developed a great respect for him, which
continues to this day. He and I have talked about, if we ever had
a chance to facilitate some meeting of the minds—like the regulators and DOE and others—to
work through some of these issues. Like the definition of high-level waste, CERCLA—the
application of CERCLA versus RCRA for some of these cleanup things. Tanks are cleaned up under RCRA. At some point, it really should be CERCLA,
it seems to me. It’s an EPA authority versus Ecology authority,
and they have different perspectives on these things. There are a number inside baseball things
that I think could help pave the way for getting on with cleanup in a more productive and efficient
way. But so far, no one’s taken us up on that
offer. I think it’s because most people, they understand
the problems, they think they can deal with it, and hopefully, they can. I know there’s efforts relooking, I’ve
heard some of Anne White’s recent talks. I think she’s on the right path. But my experience is, good ideas are a dime
a dozen. There’s lots of people out there with lots
of great ideas, but people with the ability to translate that into action and make stuff
happen as a result is much harder to find and deal with. Going from that good idea to reality and practicality
is a big leap. I’d love to see some people get together
and be able to do that in a different kind of form, come up with—it’s almost like,
hit the reset button. We are where we are, we really do need to
get on with this. If we were just starting from a clean sheet
of paper, what would we do now with what we got? I think you could see some vastly different
protocols and ways of doing things—a different kind of . Tom Wright set up some—we called it the
Cleanup Constraints and Challenges Team. We had workers there—we had workforce, contractors,
DOE, regulators. We talked, and it was facilitated. We talked about, “Why can’t we get this
done faster? That done faster? What’s in the way?” The workers would come up with one perspective
that management, some of them, “Really? We didn’t know that was going on.” Or, management would come up with something
and the workers, the regulators would say, “Oh, we didn’t understand that.” It’s just amazing, but it seems like from
a management standpoint where we’re so Balkanized, and everyone’s in their own swim lanes. It’s labor, it’s the EPA, it’s Ecology,
it’s DOE—even different parts of DOE. We need to break through that, and just draw
on the basic inherent good of people that really want to do the right thing, if given
the chance.

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