John D. Nelson (CE ’60, M.S. ’62, Ph.D. ’67)
Principal Geotechnical Engineer and Expert Witness
John D. Nelson, co-founder of the consulting firm Engineering Analytics, Inc., is long familiar with the click-click-click of a Geiger counter. One of his areas of expertise is tailings dams, vast reservoirs for storing the byproducts of mining activities including the mining of uranium. His current project is on the failure of the Mount Polley Tailings Dam in British Columbia, still undergoing litigation. In 1979 he lent his expertise to what is considered to be one of the largest accidental releases of radioactive material in United States history.
“I was the chief technical reviewer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the failure of the Church Rock Uranium Mill Tailings Dam in Church Rock, New Mexico,” says Nelson, adding that the probable cause of the failure was due to a large settlement of collapsible soils along and under the dam embankment. “Collapsible and expansive soil problems are ubiquitous in the western U.S. but also exist and cause problems in the Midwest.”
Nelson began working at Armour Research Foundation (IIT Research Institute) before beginning a 39-year academic career at the Asian Institute of Technology and Colorado State University. He retired from CSU in 2007 and started Engineering Analytics in 2008. He is the senior author of Foundation Engineering for Expansive Soils (Wiley & Sons, 2015), which focuses on the identification of expansive soils, remediation efforts, and foundation design. He has served as an expert witness on numerous cases dealing with failures of tailings dams and foundations on collapsible or expansive soils. He and his wife, Darlene, raise Texas Longhorn cattle on their ranch in Colorado.