"Fate kind of leads you down a path," the retired vice admiral said. "This was something I couldn't resist."
Mr. Munns, who retired in 2007 as commander of the U.S. Submarine Force, is adjusting to his newest role as president of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the consortium chosen to manage Savannah River Site.
The transition will occur Aug. 1, when Mr. Munns' group takes over from Washington Savannah River Co., which has operated the site since 1989.
Though his initial retirement plans included little more than golf and grandchildren, Mr. Munns was approached about joining a team vying to operate SRS.
He was curious and he called a friend to learn more.
"I asked him, 'What is Savannah River?' and he told me it was a place where there are great people doing important work for the country," Mr. Munns said.
That was all he needed to hear.
As a submarine commander, Mr. Munns has decades of experience with national security and the careful stewardship of nuclear materials -- including ballistic weapons.
"People often don't understand the nature of a submarine force -- or the Cold War," he said. "You don't talk so much about what it is or where it is, but it's something that's been crucial to our survival."
The same can be said for the men and women at SRS, who for decades have quietly and without fanfare played a vital role in preserving national security, he said.
"The task is complex and demanding," he said. "It involves building a culture of understanding, and we have that here."
Mr. Munns and Nuclear Solutions will be in charge of 6,000 of the site's 10,000 employees and will oversee operation of tritium facilities, the Savannah River National Laboratory and environmental cleanup programs.
Much like decisions involving nuclear submarine fleets, managing SRS has one primary necessity.
"It's a job you must do right," Mr. Munns said.
Some of the challenges in store for SRS include adapting to political and economic change.
"Change is around us everywhere," Mr. Munns said. "This point in time is an evolution of our country, of technology. We're not bringing change; it's already here."
The demand for energy and the "nuclear renaissance" that is renewing worldwide interest in nuclear power will likely play a role in the site's missions and research programs, he said.
"No one knows what it eventually will look like, but it's definitely under way," he said. "We expect to be a part of that."
Other challenges for Mr. Munns include recruiting young scientists and engineers to replace a capable but maturing talent pool.
"We need a strategy to take advantage of the intellectual capital we have here, and we need to work to bring in the next younger generation," Mr. Munns said. "We are confident this site has incredible potential."
The Aug. 1 takeover is rapidly approaching, but the transition will occur on time, Mr. Munns predicted.
Led by Fluor Daniel -- and with Northrop Grumman, Honeywell, Lockheed-Martin and Nuclear Fuel Services playing key roles -- the 20-person leadership team recruited by Nuclear Solutions will make the change capably, he said.
A third of those managers have experience at SRS and the rest have worked at other Energy Department sites, said Mr. Munns, who moved to Aiken in February and is delighted to call it home.
"We love it here," Mr. Munns said. "It's a small community with a big heart and a big mind."
Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE CHUCK MUNNS DOSSIER:
- He is the president and chief executive officer of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, the consortium that won a five-year, $4 billion contract to manage the U.S. Energy Department's Savannah River Site and 6,000 of its 10,000 employees.
- Mr. Munns retired in 2007 after a 34-year Navy career, most recently as vice admiral in command of the U.S. Submarine Force. The command included a $12 billion annual budget and 21,000 employees.
- He earned a bachelor's degree in physics from the U.S. Naval Academy and a master's degree in computer science from the University of Colorado.
- He and his wife have two children and two grandchildren. He enjoys golf, kayaking and hiking.
SAVANNAH RIVER NUCLEAR SOLUTIONS' MISSION AREAS
ENVIRONMENTAL CLEANUP: Management of spent nuclear fuel, nuclear materials and non-high-level radioactive waste; deactivation and decommissioning of excess facilities; remediation of soil and groundwater. Support of the DOE national security and nonproliferation programs.
OPERATION OF THE SAVANNAH RIVER NATIONAL LABORATORY: Supports departmental environmental cleanup, energy security and national security missions.
NATIONAL NUCLEAR SECURITY: Operation of the tritium facilities, completion of the plutonium disposition program and disposition of highly enriched uranium.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy