Addressing the Need for Radiation Protection Specialists at the DOE Hanford Site

Photo: Brett Rosenberg (NV5) and Stephanie Doll (WRPS) [second row] receive instruction from Kevin Konzen (WRPS, at podium) and Mike Stabin (NV5, not pictured) in the health physics review course sponsored by the Columbia Chapter Health Physics Society.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Hanford Site in Richland, Washington, has a current and future need for radiation protection specialists (referred to as health physicists). However, research has shown that the population of health physicists coming out of academia is not filling the local need, let alone the national need. The DOE has recognized this problem and has tasked members of management to develop a solution. Kevin Konzen from Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) took the lead on this endeavor.

Developing Accredited Programs at CBC and WSU-TC

In late 2018, Kevin developed a team to work with the local Tri-Cities campus of Washington State University (WSU-TC) and Columbia Basin College (CBC). Kevin, Brett Rosenberg (NV5), Mike Stabin (NV5), Stephanie Doll (WRPS), and David Hearnsberger (CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Company) met with administrative staff of these institutions to assess the requirements for establishing an ABET-accredited program at the undergraduate level for CBC and graduate level for WSU-TC.

Fortunately, with Mike and Kevin having been professors prior to their employment at Hanford, they already had the majority of the curricula developed for the required courses. Furthermore, CBC already had an associates program for radiation protection technicians; transitioning this into a 4-year program required just a few more courses.

Proposals for the 4-year program at CBC were submitted in July 2019. Once this goes through, a Bachelor of Applied Science program in Health Physics could be established at CBC as early as Fall 2020.

Hanford Employees to Enroll

Approximately 100 Hanford employees have shown interest in enrolling in undergraduate or graduate health physics programs. The team has begun working with WSU-TC toward developing a graduate program to continue this pipeline of Hanford employees, as well as students who started as technicians and have decided to pursue graduate degrees.

Collaboration with the Health Physics Society

In the meantime, Kevin and Mike have been working with the local Columbia Chapter of the Health Physics Society (HPS) to develop up-and-coming health physicists. The American Board of Health Physics offers a 2-part exam every year to certify health physicists. The Columbia Chapter put on a 3-month review course this year with Kevin and Mike as the lead professors. From February through May, the professors prepared seven local health physicists from Hanford, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Energy Northwest for this exam and provided them with tools to be successful in their daily careers as health physicists. (See photo above.)

Get Involved

If you want to help address the local need for health physicists, please volunteer in your local Health Physics Society chapter’s education or outreach committees. You can also donate equipment to your local educational institutions — old equipment is just as valuable as new, as long as it can be used as a learning tool!