Keynote Speaker

Abe Van Luik





Biographical Sketch


Dr. Abraham (Abe) Van Luik is a Senior Physical Scientist and the Director of International Programs at the Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) of the US Department of Energy.  CBFO oversees and owns the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), currently the  world's only operating deep geologic repository for radioactive waste.


Abe joined CBFO after several decades of working on the Yucca Mountain Project in Nevada, where he served as Senior Policy Advisor for Performance Assessment, the long term repository safety projections that went out to a million years.

With CBFO, Abe works with other staff to set up cooperation between the U.S. repository program and other international agencies.  Cooperative activities are formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Energy and its German counterpart, which is especially useful since the German repository program is also working in salt.  Similar agreements are in place with the British and French nuclear waste management agencies.








Abe’s nuclear-waste career began at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, continued at Rockwell Hanford Operations in Washington, with Roy F. Weston and Rogers Engineering in Washington, DC, with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) in Washington State, and with Intera, Inc. in Las Vegas, Nevada.   Finally, he joined the Department of Energy in Nevada, where he oversaw the science and engineering side of the proposed Yucca Mountain repository’s license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


Van Luik has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of California at Los Angeles and both a master’s and doctorate from Utah State University. His dissertation involved studying the physical chemistry of Utah’s Great Salt Lake.


Abe is pleased to be part of a working repository’s science program:  “Salt forms when the evaporation removes more water than is coming into the north arm of the Great Salt Lake.  WIPP is located in salt formed in similarly evaporating sea waters 250 million years ago. The chemistry is the same. It seems only fitting that I’ve returned, during the final years of my career, to what I studied while obtaining my PhD.”



Certainty Underground: Why Geology is More Stable than Society”


An oft-expressed sentiment is: “why bury dangerous waste where it can’t be seen and we won’t know what it is doing?  Why not store it in massive containers above ground so every generation can see it and see that it is OK?”


            The short answer?  “Geology is more stable than society.”


An oft expressed fear is that an earthquake could do unimaginable things to a repository for dangerous wastes deep underground, and imaginations and memories jump their tracks to match a disaster flick’s horrific images to the imagined repository.


Above-ground storage can be safe, it is practiced today, but for how long can it be relied on, a century or two, sure, but not thousands or tens of thousands of years:

            It is primarily this fear that fuels the fire for agitating for above-ground long-term storage that can be “watched”

            But watched by whom and for how long?

            Who will pay for someone to provide physical protection (safeguards)?

            Who is liable if at some point some maintenance is required?


Two issues with long-term storage are:

            Intergenerational equity: should future generations be made to deal with our messes?

            The answer is simply and emphatically no.


            Are national/local governments stable for millennia and hence reliable partners making the repository area safe from inadvertent intrusions?

            The short answer is no, the longer answer is more complicated and contains the word “depends” –depends on the value to the local community.



This presentation will illustrate why, no matter what the inevitable longer term changes in governments, if there is local importance attached to a location or structure, it will be maintained and respected.


This presentation will also underscore, using photos taken in various caves, that earthquake ground motion is more destructive at the surface than it is at depth. All illustrations will be from the author’s photo collections.



NCKMS 2013 at NCKRI  -  400-1 Cascades Avenue  -  Carlsbad  -  New Mexico  - 88220