Note: This story was published in the November 21 edition of “EM Update” by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management. EM Update recently spoke with Jay Mullis, the new manager of the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM), about his vision and priorities for the EM program in Oak Ridge.
What are your main priorities going forward as the new manager of OREM?
Overall, I want to ensure our program maintains the momentum we’ve achieved during the past several years. First, it is important for us to continue pushing forward to complete cleanup at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP, also known as the former K-25 site) by 2020. This will facilitate the transfer of the site back to the community so it can be transformed into a vibrant industrial park capable of generating jobs and economic growth for the region. It will also allow our program to shift its focus and resources toward cleanup at two important, active DOE sites: the Y-12 National Security Complex and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Before we finish our cleanup mission at ETTP, we must also fulfill our historic preservation commitments to preserve and celebrate the many achievements that occurred there during the Manhattan Project and Cold War.
Secondly, it is very important that we begin laying the foundation for our next big challenges at Y-12 and ORNL. That began on November 20, when we broke ground on the new Mercury Treatment Facility at Y-12. This critical piece of infrastructure will provide an important control measure for mercury and opens the door for us to clean and remove mercury contaminated facilities and soils. Additionally, it is crucial to construct another onsite disposal facility that will provide the space necessary for the waste generated by completing cleanup at Y-12 and ORNL.
Finally, we will continue our focus on eliminating Oak Ridge’s waste inventory. We are making progress packaging and disposing transuranic waste from ORNL with the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant again accepting shipments. We are working to eliminate the remaining portion of the uranium-233 inventory from ORNL to improve safety and significantly reduce security costs.
What do you see as your biggest challenges?
One of our challenges on the horizon is completing our mission at ETTP. I often say the biggest challenge with finishing any project is actually finishing. What I mean by that is there are always small details that arise that need to be dealt with in real time. As we approach completion, there are a myriad of logistical issues to resolve. These issues can be easy to overlook while chasing big items, but they can become urgent and ultimately delay or prevent site closure if they are not managed effectively. To add to the complexity and considerations of ETTP’s closure, we are also very mindful of smoothly transitioning cleanup and D&D (deactivation and decommissioning) activities from ETTP to Y-12 and ORNL.
Additionally, we need certain infrastructure in place to maintain our cleanup momentum at Y-12 and ORNL. To do that, we must resolve an ongoing formal dispute with the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation regarding the location of a new onsite CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act) disposal facility. The facility is essential to being able to complete cleanup at Y-12 and ORNL in a timely and cost effective manner. Without adequate onsite disposal capability, the cost of removing many of the department’s highest risk facilities will be exorbitant.
Jay Mullis, manager of the Oak Ridge Office of EM (OREM), speaks at an event in October previewing the K-25 History Center. OREM expects to begin building the center next year.
You’ve had a lengthy career at Oak Ridge. Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of so far, and what do you hope to achieve in your new role?
I’ve had the good fortune to work with many very dedicated and talented folks in Oak Ridge, along with DOE headquarters and other field offices throughout the complex. This allowed me to learn from some of the best and to receive excellent support in accomplishing the various tasks and projects I’ve helped lead over the years. Having an opportunity to serve in a leadership role with the team for the ETTP cleanup and closure contract is one of the projects I’m personally most proud of. Our team was able to make it through the procurement process in record time—from issuing the request for proposal to awarding the $2.2 billion contract. Due to the success and speed of the project, it was recognized by the secretary through a Secretary’s Appreciation Award.
Going forward, I would like to leave the program in a place where OREM can continue to cost effectively clean up Oak Ridge. I’m benefiting from the decisions of my predecessors, such as the type of contract incentives our program used for completing ETTP, the siting of the current onsite disposal facility, and the construction of a DOE haul road for safe waste transportation. They made those decisions, and they’ve resulted in our program achieving the success we see today. I would like to leave a similar legacy for OREM.
How has your experience at Oak Ridge helped prepare for your new role leading the cleanup mission at the site at this time?
Early in my career, I worked for the Navy, overhauling and refueling nuclear submarines. This may sound like an odd career transition to EM, but in my opinion, the disciplined and rigorous approach that I learned during my time there carried over well into working on decontaminating, decommissioning, and demolishing nuclear facilities and environmental remediation in Oak Ridge.
With DOE, I’ve had the opportunity to perform a lot of different jobs and get a firsthand look at how the department plans, funds, contracts, and executes its work. I have also had great mentors along the way from whom I learned a lot. Among those are EM Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Owendoff and Oak Ridge’s former EM senior managers. Additionally, I am very fortunate to have a dedicated and skilled team in Oak Ridge to support and advance our mission. Together, I believe these elements provide the experience, resources, and perspective necessary to perform the job effectively.
Can you describe Oak Ridge’s progress toward reaching Vision 2020 for the ETTP, and what is needed to bring that initiative to successful completion?
We are very close to achieving DOE’s Vision 2020. Crews are continuing to clean out and demolish old, contaminated, and excess facilities and conduct soil remediation projects on a daily basis. As we approach 2020, we need to maintain the talented, dedicated workforce that has performed so well and made this goal achievable. That requires stable and consistent budgets for our ETTP work, and our congressional delegation has been incredibly supportive to help us accomplish this vision. This administration has also shown great support for our goals at ETTP and beyond at Y-12 and ORNL, which has been a huge asset for our program. Like I mentioned earlier, we will need to manage all the small details that arise as you near a milestone, but this team has shown they are very effective at addressing those issues and achieving milestones on time.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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