About VERTical

Every day, we work with our partners to push advanced clean energy technologies forward

The VERTical innovation cluster was established in January 2022 and is administered by Port of Benton. Washington State Department of Commerce has invested in VERTical as part of its first cohort for funding through its Innovation Cluster Accelerator Program.

The industry-led coalition forges collaborative strategies that solve supply chain, workforce, capital and other barriers impeding the widescale deployment of next-generation nuclear and other advanced clean energy technologies.

VERTical’s efforts facilitate a thriving industry able to lead the transition to a zero-carbon future and stimulate economic growth first in the Northwest and then across the U.S.

“Washington VERTical, led by the Port of Benton – accelerating the transition to clean, renewable and non-emitting energy production sources by 2025 through advanced nuclear power technologies.”

VERTical Board of Directors

The VERTical Board of Directors was formed in October 2023, and the inaugural members hail from coast to coast. These leaders will help shape the board will expand to include additional representatives from industry-leading organizations and cutting-edge technology companies.

Board Chair Ken Langdon

Energy Northwest General Manager for Nuclear Development

Langdon is a U.S. Navy veteran with extensive experience in nuclear operations, site readiness and supply chain. Langdon lives in Washington.

Frederick P. Hughes, PMP

Fluor Corporation Vice President Project Direction, Mission Solutions Nuclear & Civil Group

Hughes has vast experience assembling and directing high-performance project teams and delivering projects on schedule and budget. Hughes hails from Idaho.

Jeff Whitt

President of Framatome U.S. Government Solutions

Whitt has extensive experience in nuclear reactor fabrication, design and technical management, and expanding U.S. infrastructure and capabilities. Whitt is based in Virginia.

VERTical Director

Diahann Howard, PPM®, PPX®

VERTical Acting Director & Port of Benton Executive Director

Diahann Howard serves as the acting director of the VERTical Advanced Clean Energy Innovation Cluster.

Founding Investors

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Ken Langdon

Kenneth Langdon, Nuclear Development General Manager, joined Energy Northwest in 2023 with 35 years of nuclear experience.

Ken served in the U.S. Navy for eight years and has an extensive background in management at various nuclear organizations, including Site Vice President at Nine Mile Point for Constellation Energy, Director of Operations at Diablo Canyon Power Plant, Plant Manager at Sequoyah Nuclear Plant for Tennessee Valley Authority, Vice President of Operational Readiness for Westinghouse Electric Company and Vice President of Operations and Plant Services for NuScale Power, LLC.

Ken holds a BS in Workforce Education and Development and a Senior Reactor Operator Certification from LaSalle County Nuclear Station.

Frederick P. Hughes, PMP

Career Summary:
Fred Hughes has over 50 years assembling and leading high-performance teams to bring complex projects to successful completion. He has directed compliant nuclear operations including spent nuclear fuel (SNF) removal, waste management operations, environmental remediation and decontamination, deactivation and demolition of nuclear and other complicated structures and facilities. He has implemented processes and systems to successfully upgrade commercial nuclearpower plant equipment, construction of nuclear facilities and waste facilities. He has directed engineering processes including software and hardware design and implemented prototype systems.

Fred has managed nuclear facilities, establishing strong conduct of operations built on a robust foundation of health and safety practices that ensure worker protection from job hazards.


  • MBA, Operations Management, 1989, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • BS, Operations Research, 1976, US Naval Academy
  • Project Management Institute-certified Project Management Professional (#502415), 2007

Currently a Fluor Vice President responsible as the Fluor Project Director working with Longview Fusion Energy Systems to design and construct the first fusion plant in 10 years. For the last 7 years he was the President and Program Director of Fluor Idaho responsible for all cleanup activities on the Idaho Cleanup Project directing 1,800 employees on a $2.3B contract. Prior to that Fred was the Deputy Site Director at the Portsmouth D&D Site in Piketon, Ohio responsible for all operational aspects of the $350M/year decontamination and demolition contract.

Fred was a Vice President at Westinghouse responsible for all activities of the consortium constructing the AP1000 nuclear plants at VC Summer from 2008 – 2010 as well as establishing a project management organization within Westinghouse’s engineering business division. He has spent over 20 years at a number of DOE sites including Idaho National Laboratory, Hanford, Portsmouth Enrichment Plant, Rocky Flats, and the Nevada Test Site.

Fred worked at General Dynamics Electric Boat Shipyard as a Supervisor in Engineering supporting the combat systems engineering department. Fred retired from the Naval Reserves as a Captain having completed successful commanding officer tours of 4 Reserve Units. He also was on active duty for over 5 years qualifying in submarines and completing the nuclear power training course.

Jeffrey (Jeff) Whitt

President, Framatome US Government Solutions LLC
Framatome Director, North America Advanced Reactors

Jeff Whitt is the President of Framatome US Government Solutions LLC. He is responsible for leading engagement with the federal government, especially the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and U.S. industry to fulfill Framatome’s mission to be a strong industrial leader actively supporting strategic U.S. nuclear infrastructure and capabilities. Jeff is also the Framatome Director of North America Advanced Reactors, responsible for the company’s North American focus on growing the advanced-reactor business and helping to build a strong future for the country’s nuclear industry.

Jeff began his career in the nuclear industry in 1983. He held positions associated with fabrication, design, and technical management and holds patents related to the fabrication of nuclear fuel. He spent a period away from the nuclear industry working on the deployment of cellular technology and was the founder/president of a program-management firm.

Prior to his current positions, Jeff was a member of Framatome’s U.S. Fuel team with responsibility for strategic business development, including the Accident-Tolerant Fuel program, and led the effort to grow the services business. In that role, he developed strategic relationships with the U.S. DOE and the U.S. National Laboratories and was instrumental in promoting Framatome as a key partner for the future of nuclear in the U.S. In his current role, he has successfully implemented a plan for the growth of Framatome’s government-related business and has developed a strategy and working groups for positioning and growing the company’s advanced-reactors business.

Jeff serves various organizations including the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium (VNEC), the Texas A&M Nuclear Engineering (TAMU NEUN) Advisory Council, NEI and USNIC working groups, and represents Framatome on the U.S. International Trade Association Working Group for SMRs.

Jeff started his career through an apprenticeship where he became a journeyman machinist and later pursued his business degree. He currently lives in the Lynchburg, Virginia, area and enjoys those rare occasions of a break on Smith Mountain Lake with his family.

Diahann Howard, PPM®, PPX®

Port of Benton Executive Director & VERTical Acting Director

Diahann Howard was named Port of Benton’s executive director in December 2019. She also serves as the acting director of the VERTical Advanced Clean Energy Innovation Cluster.

Previously, Howard served as Port of Benton’s director of economic development and governmental affairs. She was also the executive director of the Tri-Cities Research District Innovation Partnership Zone from 2007 to 2020. Before joining the port in 2006, she was the economic development manager for City of Richland.

Howard earned a Professional Port Manager (PPM®) certification in 2019 and was named a Port Professional Executive (PPX®) by the American Association of Ports in 2023.

During her 17 years at Port of Benton, her efforts have resulted in over $27.7 million in grant and legislative funding, including $5 million to support the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center and $6.9 million for port rail line improvements.

Howard currently serves on the boards of Visit Tri-Cities, Eastern Washington University President Advisory Board, and others. In 2018, she was appointed to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Advisory Board. Previously, she served as the Richland Rotary president from 2017 to 2018 and was named Rotarian of the Year in 2012.

Howard is a Tri-Cities, Washington, native and holds a Bachelor of Science in International Affairs from Eastern Washington University. She is the first female to hold the Port of Benton executive director position and the first executive director with Latina heritage among the 75 port districts within Washington state.