President Obama to appoint civil engineering alumnus to key administration post

Civil and environmental engineering alumnus Tissa Illangasekare has been tapped to serve on the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) by President Barack Obama.

Tissa Illangasekare
President Obama has announced his intent to appoint engineering alumnus Tissa Illangasekare to the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board.

In addition to receiving his Ph.D. at Colorado State University, Illangasekare was a Research Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at CSU for five years. He now serves as a Distinguished Endowed Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Director of the Center for Experimental Study of Subsurface Environmental Processes at Colorado School of Mines.

“This appointment is an exciting opportunity to give something back to this country. At this stage of my career, what matters to me most is how I can use the knowledge and experience I have gathered to be impactful, and this appointment reflects that. It’s not only recognition for me, but also for the institutions where I got my education,” Illangasekare said.

The future of nuclear waste

The role of the NWTRB is to provide expertise on activities “related to managing and disposing of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.” Illangasekare’s expertise is in subsurface hydrology and modeling of flow and transport in permeable and fractured media. When addressing issues of nuclear waste storage, his skill set is helpful in understanding the environmental implications of whether chemicals can be safely stored underground.

Illangasekare sees nuclear waste storage as not only a thing of the past, with chemicals already waiting to be stored, but also a discussion for the future as the United States considers options for nuclear energy, and in its efforts to become more energy independent. “We can’t write off nuclear energy, because it can be used safely if you design the system well. If you want to be energy independent, you have to think about how we’re going to deal with waste in the future,” he said.

CSU as a foundation for success

Grateful for his education, Illangasekare credits his professors and peers at CSU with a solid foundation for his career. “When you look at a program, it’s not only the professors that contribute to the quality of your education. I also benefitted from some of the very top students from around the world, with whom I interacted during both my time as a graduate student and as a faculty member. CSU gave me the really, really good foundation to do what I was able to do,” he said.

In April, Illangasekare will begin his nearly four-year term, joining nine existing board members. Viewing the appointment as an opportunity to serve, Illangasekare looks forward to impacts he will be able to make in this role.