Condolences to the family of Frank Leon Parker, 96, who died on August 10. He was an internationally renowned nuclear waste disposal expert and elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.
A true scientist, Frank was insatiably curious about everything. He went on to generate seminal works in what are now seven distinct disciplines, ranging from hydraulics to law to the scientific foundations of the environmental sustainability movement. Innovation and institutionalization of scientifically sound policies were his hallmarks and are his legacy, carried forward not only through his books and hundreds of peer-reviewed publications, not only through the innumerable committees and commissions he served on or led, but also through the generations of leaders in countries across the globe who earned their advanced degrees under him or received his guidance and philosophy.
Among the Vanderbilt University community members who found Parker unforgettable are developer, engineer, and president of Bluebird Consulting and Mason Realty Investors Steve Mason; Engineering Endowed Director of Construction Management Professor Sanjiv Gokhale; Bob Waters of Sandia National Laboratories; Peter Jaffe of Princeton University; and Steve Hays of Gobble Hays Partners Inc.
Ranging from his home institution of Vanderbilt University, where he retired as Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Environmental Water Resources Engineering and Civil Engineering, and his home away from home in Vienna, Austria, where he spent time off and on from 1960 (at the United Nations ’International Atomic Energy Agency) to 2013 (at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis), Frank lent his time and talent to the biggest nuclear and radioactive waste concerns on the planet, taking time out from his consulting to the U.S., Swedish, Japanese, French, Italian, German, Swiss, Indian, Pakistani, and Russian governments to guest lecture and teach short courses from Oxford, England, to the University of Tennessee. He visited Moscow 30 times, beginning in 1964 at the height of the cold war.
In the case of Lee Company v. North Carolina Board of Transportation, 308 N.C. 603, 611-13 (N.C. 1983), Frank’s expert testimony and the monograph he provided to the court set the precedent that a land owner is responsible for the downstream (and upstream) effects of changes they make to the speed and volume of water discharged from their property. The case has been cited in more than 40 legal opinions.
Parker’s two reports while a senior research fellow of the Beijer Institute of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences were the only citations in the radioactive waste section of Madame Gro Harlem Brundtland’s pioneering 1987 United Nations report, Our Common Future. Brundtland established and was chair of the UN’s World Commission on Environment and Development, best known for developing the broad political concept of sustainable development. The recommendations led to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
Parker was a member of the Scientific Advisory Council for the International Radioecology Laboratory, Slavutych (Chernobyl). He served as a lecturer at Christ College, Oxford, in a United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority course and as a lecturer in the Italian Physics Society course on nuclear problems at Lake Como. He also was a senior research fellow of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria.
Parker was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1988 for “world leadership in the development of the basic information required for safe disposal of high-level radioactive wastes”, the first from Vanderbilt and the only Vanderbilt member for 25 years.
Parker served as the first head of Radioactive Waste Disposal Research for the International Atomic Energy Agency where he reached ambassadorial level. He served as head of the Radioactive Waste Disposal Research Section of Oak Ridge National Laboratory during his 10 years there, where his research was the first ecological study of riverine contamination conditions and the first pilot plant development of disposal of high-level radioactive wastes in geological strata, Project Salt Vault.
Frank was the third person to receive the 2003 Wendell D. Weart Lifetime Achievement in Nuclear Waste Management Award sponsored by Sandia National Laboratory.
Frank was unanimously chosen to receive the 2018 W. Bennett Lewis Award for Sustainable Energy and Development from the American Nuclear Society. The
award recognizes those who have made major lifetime contributions in nuclear science and engineering toward minimizing environmental footprints and attaining long-term global sustainable energy and development.
Jack Daniel’s drinkers can rejoice in the knowledge that the water supply for this Tennessee sipping whiskey is assured, thanks in part to work by Frank Parker. The Jack Daniel Distillery purchased the 250 acres that feed its single source of water after scientific studies in the 1980s. Frank answered the question that others could not—what was the source of the water that emerged in the Cave Spring Hollow?
Married for 67 years to the love of his life, Elaine Parker, Frank traveled with her to some 60 countries, from the fjords of Nordkapp to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, Australia to Argentina. While working in Siberia, he took colleagues on the weekend to Lake Baikal. It helped that his wife, Elaine, was a gourmet cook who, like his colleagues, was also interested in touring and eating adventurously. Frank and Elaine hiked and camped with their children all over the southern United States and in the intermountain west and northwest. Elaine passed in October 2021.
He is survived by his four children, Nina (Parker) Ganz, Aaron, Stephan and David; five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren and many loving nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. He is survived by his brother Gerald and preceded in death by his brother Arnold.
Donations may be made in honor of Frank Parker to the Jewish Family Service of Nashville.
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