Gail de Planque passes on

Gail de Planque, 1945 – 2010, a great lady.


We have suffered a great loss. Gail de Planque recently died after fighting for almost a year the complications of Lyme disease following a tiny tic bite.


Gail had an elegant presence and dressed immaculately. She was an entertaining conversationalist and a good companion. She will be missed as much for her personality as for her work. With more good fortune she might have gone on contributing to all parts of the nuclear enterprise for another twenty years.


Gail did three things very well indeed. She was an intrepid supporter of the nuclear sector … knowledgeable on both the technical side and the socio-political side. Secondly, she was an exemplar for other women making their way in the nuclear world, and third she was a lovable human being with a wide variety of interests, that made her nuclear industrial contributions all the more believable and distinguished.

Gail de Planque

She was the first woman to do many things in the nuclear world … her obituary published in the ANS Nuclear News (attached here) makes that clear. One of her accomplishments was to be our own President. However, her real contribution was her initial work, with others across the Pacific, in establishing our organization back in 1988 as an outgrowth of the Pacific Basin Nuclear Conferences, started in 1976 by the ANS. Such organizations as the PNC do not come into being without a considerable amount of innovative thought and by forward-looking individuals such as Gail … as well as their ability to sustain an enthusiasm for the idea over several years.


When the Pacific Nuclear Council was established for countries around the ocean rim, work was also going on to found the International Nuclear Societies Council (INSC). Gail was active in the INSC too and eventually became its President.


International organizations include people and national organizations with widely differing ideas and priorities. Often personal pride and protectiveness enter into negotiations … Gail was sensitive to those matters and if others sometimes stepped on toes, Gail never did. She recognized the importance of other views especially those across national boundaries. She built on common interests, sometimes far away from the nuclear arena to show that we are all really one people with the same objectives.


For example, she loved good food, fine dining and complementary wines. She cooked well too when she could get the time. She was excellent company. That makes a difference when you meet in committee. She loved cats … she had two, one dark, named Merlot, and one light, named Chardonnay. She shared that interest with Professor Mishima, another cat enthusiast, when they weren’t speaking about the fast reactor on one hand or the INSC on the other. That’s how people of common interests build common organizations. Another of Gail’s cats was an office worker at the New York Department of Energy office. It was of course cleared for its activities in verifying the security of the office and it wore a DOE badge at all times.


Another of Gail’s interests was genealogy so when she wasn’t in committee she might be found in a cemetery studying tombstones of her forebears, even in Chicago. Her name, ‘de Planque,’ is derived from a family background from the Low Countries. Even though she was American born and bred she was sensitive to Europe and enjoyed supposing what her family might have been. Thus, she was protective of the ‘de’ and objected strongly when computers made her ‘De Planque.’ The opening ‘de’ could mean she was of noble blood, depending on which side of the border between Belgium and the Netherlands her family had lived. Being sensitive towards other cultures helped her to understand the Pacific Nuclear community.


She worked with and for other women in the nuclear community and so she was active in groups such as ‘Women in Nuclear’ to provide her support and advice. Women always found a sympathetic and professional ear in Gail as well as someone to emulate.

There are many who will miss Gail, not the least the Pacific Nuclear Council.

Obituary from the ANS Nuclear News, November 2010


E. Gail de Planque, ANS Fellow and member since 1971 and the first woman to serve as ANS President (1988-1989), died of complications of Lyme disease in 2010. She was 65.


An internationally renowned expert in environmental radiation, de Planque was also the first woman to serve as a commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


De Planque earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Immaculata College in 1967, a master’s degree in physics from Newark College of Engineering in 1973, and a doctorate in environmental health sciences from New York University in 1983.


In 1967, de Planque joined the Department of Energy’s Environmental Measurements Laboratory as a physicist in the radiation Physics Division. She served as deputy director of the laboratory from 1982 to 1987 and then as director until 1991, when President George H.W. Bush appointed her as a NRC commissioner, a position she held until 1995.


Positions that de Planque held later in her career included that of director at the Energy Strategists Consultancy and President of the consulting firm Strategy Matters from 2000 to 2010.


De Planque also served as a director on the boards of several corporations including Northeast Utilities, Energy Solutions, and British Nuclear Fuels. She was also an advisor to the International Atomic Energy Agency. In addition she was a past president of the Pacific Nuclear Council and the International Nuclear Societies Council, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements.


For her varied contributions, including more than 70 scientific publications, numerous international lectures on science and policy issues, and leadership in the development of international standards related to thermoluminescent-dosimetry, de Planque was honored with several awards. These included the 2003 Henry E>DeWolfSmyth Nuclear Statesman Award, presented by the Nuclear Energy Institute and the ANS to recognize her distinguished service in multiple sectors of the nuclear enterprise.”

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