After just 14 months on the job, the President of Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), the federal government's contractor in charge of managing the underground nuclear waste storage tanks at Hanford, has suddenly announced his retirement.
Mike Johnson sent an e-mail to WRPS employees Wednesday afternoon to say he will retire at the end of June. Johnson did not give a reason for leaving his post.
"It is with mixed emotions that I inform you that I will retire from my position as President of WRPS, effective June 30," wrote Johnson.
WRPS has been at the center of a multi-part series by the KING 5 Investigators, "Hanford's Dirty Secrets." The reports exposed that WRPS ignored scientific evidence and advice from veteran employees that a double-shell tank was leaking nuclear waste at Hanford for nearly a year. After discounting the red flags of a leak, the company and the U.S. Dept. of Energy confirmed the tank, known as AY-102, was indeed leaking the most hazardous material on the planet from its primary tank into the safety space of the million gallon vessel on October 22, 2012.
On Thursday KING spoke with Johnson by phone. When asked why he is retiring he said he didn't want to answer questions about that. Shortly afterward a WRPS spokesperson, Jerry Holloway, emailed reporter Susannah Frame. "Mike Johnson's retirement plans were shared with his senior staff in January 2013. Your stories had nothing to do with his retirement," wrote Holloway. KING 5 has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain records on the timing and reasoning for Johnson's retirement.
"I think this retirement must be connected to the handling of AY-102," said WRPS instrument technician Mike Geffre who first discovered the leak in October of 2011.
Geffre is the whistleblower who came forward to report the company's actions to KING 5.
"My gut feeling is he was encouraged to go because the timing doesn't make sense. It's not typical for a president to leave after just 18 months. But I think it's the right thing. It's time for a change in leadership. They had a chance to do the right thing with AY-102 and they blew it. That was bad, shoddy work and if that's the type of work he's willing to accept, then it's time to go."
KING 5 also exposed that WRPS was caught flat footed when the tank's leak detection system sent up an alarm that nuclear waste was escaping from the primary tank. KING found the company had no plan in place to deal with a potential leak of a double-shell tank, which led to further delays in confirming the leak and formulating plans to fix the leak or develop an action plan to pump the tank's contents.
The reporters also found that the company received $23 million in bonus money from the federal government for doing a good job managing the Hanford tanks during the exact months the signs of a leak were discounted. In addition, KING revealed that after definitive evidence the primary tank was leaking was collected in August of 2012, WRPS and the US Dept. of Energy hid the evidence from Hanford policy advisers, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the public.
According to Johnson's e-mail to company employees, Lyden (Dave) Olsen will take over as president of WRPS. Olsen is currently a manager at the Savannah River nuclear facility in South Carolina.
"In closing, I am very proud to be a part of the WRPS team. Thank you for all the support you have given me. I could not have asked for a better group of people to work with during my time with WRPS," wrote Johnson.
The US Department of Energy awarded the contract to manage all of the site's tank farms, holding 56 million gallons of nuclear waste, to WRPS in May, 2008. The contract is a cost-plus award fee contract worth approximately $7.1 billion over a ten year period. The base period of the contract will expire in September. The federal government has an option to extend the contract for five more years. KING emailed and called US Department of Energy media representatives to find out if the contract will extend through September 2018. The reporters recieved no responses.
Watch the series: Hanford's Dirty Secrets