SDSU Prof Backs Deep Borehole Nuclear Waste Project; Mines Took Shot at Contract

SDSU physics professor and coordinator of nuclear education (I like that job title!) Dr. Robert McTaggart is disappointed that our friends up in North Dakota nuked the Deep Borehole Field Test that would have studied the feasibility of sealing nuclear waste in three-mile-deep holes. He says nuclear power is good, and we need to do science to figure out what to do with nuclear waste:

Dr. Robert McTaggart
Dr. Robert McTaggart

Trying to halt nuclear energy altogether by opposing any kind of nuclear waste storage is misguided. It completely ignores the security issues and on-going costs of storing waste that has already been produced. Also, there would be the cost of replacing nuclear power with other carbon-free energy sources, and the cost of losing the most reliable form of baseload power we have to stabilize the electric grid.

…Until now we have gladly accepted the many benefits of nuclear technology, while kicking the can down the road with respect to our nuclear waste responsibilities. To store the waste that we have already produced, and to facilitate the generation of new clean energy, we must establish a robust process for disposing of our nuclear waste. This will not be possible without sound science and the consent of state and local governments [Dr. Robert McTaggart, “Address Concerns Re: Nuclear Waste Disposal,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.04.12].

Bill Wicker, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy, tells me that DOE is sticking with Battelle Memorial Institute, the organization that won DOE’s contract to conduct the Deep Borehole Field Test. Battelle spokesman T. R. Massey says Battelle is “examining several potential places around the country in concurrent fashion” as alternative sites for the DBFT but says “it would be imprudent to divulge the locations of those sites until we know more about each.” Wicker says DOE is not directing or recommending Battelle’s site selection process but will work with Battelle to ensure that whatever site it chooses is acceptable.

A source tells me that international engineering and design firm Parsons Brinckerhoff bid for the DBFT with a South Dakota site in mind. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology was one of the partners in the Parsons Brinckerhoff proposal. I contacted the School of Mines hoping to review that proposal, but Mines spokesperson Fran LeFort replied, “Proposals belong to the investigators who write the proposals and the university cannot release them.” Parsons Brinckerhoff has not yet replied to this blog’s request for comment.

Related Reading:

  1. Dr. McTaggart has called the proposed Powertech-Azarga in situ uranium mine in the Southern Black Hills a “prudent” step in “reducing our dependence on imported uranium from countries in the former Soviet Union and moving toward cleaner energy.
  2. Meanwhile, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead wants to “double down” on coal, even as regulation and cheap natural gas cut the jobs and tax revenue to be made working the black seam together.

60 Responses to SDSU Prof Backs Deep Borehole Nuclear Waste Project; Mines Took Shot at Contract

  1. Paul Seamans

    I propose that we store our nuclear waste in the Pacific Ocean, kind of like Japan is doing with their Fukishama waste.

  2. mike from iowa

    Store it in the AG’s office. I doubt he would notice. Same for the guv’s office and the lege offices.

  3. In other news, Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal producer, today announced that it’s bankrupt. That makes four U.S. coal companies knocked out this year by low energy prices.

  4. How many nuclear plants operate in South Dakota? Zero.

    How many South Dakota residents have jobs because of the nuclear industry? Zero.

    What is South Dakota’s financial obligation to the nuclear industry? Zero.

    Then what’s South Dakota’s obligation to fix the problem that has benefited other states with installations, jobs and financial benefits? Zero.

    Don Pay has warned us that they’re looking for South Dakotans to act like chumps. Again. This time, let’s stop these jerks before they have a chance to get a foot hold. South Dakota owes these jerks nothing.

  5. Paul Seamans

    Very well put 96tears and mike.

  6. I am waiting for Mr. Pay’s ideas of what to do with this stuff. Perhaps jettison it to space or boreholes on the moon.

  7. About 2 years ago or so, there was a bore hole or something like that, drilled outside of Wasta. Nothing more was ever said about it and that seems to have been that. Could that have been a test site as well? It all seemed kind of interesting.

  8. There are 50 states, grud. Pick one that has benefited first-hand from the industry. The logic to select South Dakota requires the exploration of several rabbit holes before coming to that conclusion. South Dakota can do better than being the nation’s landfill for its ickiest waste. Just ask Hunter Swanson.

  9. Cory, sorry to give this news but Peabody is still mining and still making big money. I am getting the feeling though that somewhere along the line, we taxpayers are gonna get stuck for the cleanup that Peabody and others have destroyed with mountain top removal in Appalachia country. The devastation there is unconscionable with many cancer sites and just plain toxicity to the air and the water. Peabody has been trying to sell itself for some time or file for protection as that is how the coal companies get a free pass to deny pensions and pending litigation. The lawsuits have their way of going slowly through the courts but this chapter 11 is kind of questionable. Powder River is still going and so are all the rest of the subsidiaries including the big ones in Australia as two examples.

  10. Donald Pay

    The entire Department of Energy process for the deep borehole disposal test is and example of how not to do what Dr. McTaggart claims is a science project to study the concept. It was not a “science project.” It was Stage 1 in siting a high level radioactive waste dump. Everyone, including the scientists who submitted proposals, knows that.

    Dr. McTaggart talks glowingly about “consent,” but the North Dakota selection was done without any public knowledge. Not even the Governor of North Dakota was let in on the secret. Basically, it was attempted rape.

    Cory fills in some blanks about the South Dakota proposal that have been waiting over a year to be disclosed. I tried to find out through and Freedom of Information Act request nearly a year ago. Cory, thus, has provided in a short sentence, far more information about the South Dakota proposal for the deep borehole test than good ole Dr. McTaggart imparted in his shill piece that spoke “glowingly” about the benefits of radioactive waste disposal. Why he never got around to actual specifics about South Dakota’s own attempt to land the deep borehole disposal project is beyond me.

    So, thanks to Cory and no thanks to the South Dakota academic community, South Dakota state government or the Department of Energy, we now know there are some high powered international players involved in the South Dakota proposal, not just some piss ant SD profs.

    One thing we can be sure of is these folks ain’t done trying to stick this borehole disposal plan in South Dakota. The Department of Energy has already indicated it is violating its own Request for Proposal process by looking at other states. How convenient they can continue to hide behind worst kind of anti-science secrecy in the quest to find a Governor willing to pimp out his or her state to the desperate search for a solution to decades of federal government bumbling on the nuclear waste issue.

    I’m sure South Dakota is one of those states the feds think is dumb enough to think this “science project” isn’t a nuclear dump in disguise. But they thought that about North Dakota, and the people there were smart enough to see through the DOE’s b.s. I’m sure South Dakotans are at least as smart as North Dakotans, but I’m not sure your Governor has quite as much on the ball as North Dakota’s. We’ll see.

  11. I get it. I get it. “Glowingly” speaking about nuke waste. Professor McTaggart seems to be applying to cash in like Chicoine did with Monsanto.

    Not long ago there was a Popular Science article that talked about existing nuclear reactor technology that can wring the energy out of spent rods so they don’t have to be buried somewhere. If they can do that then the US doesn’t need to mine more uranium, and waste stockpiles could go down rather than up without polluting the air with coal smoke.

    Meanwhile, some in government want to kill off American coal plants and instead ship American coal to China where they burn it ten times as dirty and don’t give a care. That doesn’t make much sense to me either.

  12. Lanny V Stricherz

    Have they picked the successor for David Chicoine as President of SDSU? I imagine it will probably be Dr McTaggert. Might as well have another one beholden to industry.

    I think that the nuclear waste should go in Dr McTaggert’s back yard or Grudz’s scrambled eggs.

    96 hits on something very relevant to this entire conversation. One thing that gets lost in the conversation is transporting the nuclear waste to wherever it is going to be dumped. Do we really want those trucks or trains running through our towns and countryside? I think not.

  13. Robert McTaggart

    Thanks to everybody for reading my article :^).

    I oversee the Minor in Nuclear Engineering at SDSU. This prepares engineers and scientists to work in an area of nuclear science or nuclear engineering. While it supports future employment at a power plant or prepares students for graduate school, it also supports career interests in medical physics (radiation therapy and medical imaging) and health physics (radiation safety, radiation detection, and environmental monitoring).

    I believe (a.) climate change is a pressing challenge, (b.) we will need a lot more clean energy than anyone thinks, and (c.) while we will certainly need more renewables and energy storage, we’ll need nuclear to satisfy the global growth in energy.

    Sorry, I don’t get a dime for writing these articles. The motivation is solely public education. If Mr. Heidelberger would like to send me some questions, I would be happy to address them the best I can.

  14. 96, just checking: If the Pathfinder reactor in Sioux Falls had succeeded, or if Basin Electric decided to replace Big Stone I with a nuclear reactor, would you consider a nuclear waste facility in South Dakota more acceptable?

    I suppose the same transmission-line argument that supposedly hamstrings wind farm expansion would also hamstring building nuclear plants here: there’s no sense in generating more power in South Dakota if we don’t have the infrastructure to ship that power to the growing energy-using populations elsewhere… though that gets me wonder-wandering down a tangential path: if we built a giant wind farm or a big nuclear power plant, might that not entice some big industries to move their factories next door to take advantage of cheap, clean power? (Yes, we can continue to have the debate about whether nuclear power is clean.)

    The strongest point in 96’s concern, amplified by Lanny, is that putting dumps far from the source of waste means having to haul that waste cross-country, subjecting more people to risk. Is it feasible to store nuclear waste at the point of generation?

  15. Dr. McTaggart! Glad to have you. To Lanny’s question: is there any chance an associate prof like yourself could be elevated to university presidency? And would an associate prof like yourself want that promotion? ;-)

    See your e-mail for more questions!

  16. I am glad Dr. McTaggart will get some more questions from Mr. H and maybe we can all learn more. And Doctor, please don’t let some of these down-in-the-mouth conspiracy theorists bother you, it is just their way of saying “hi.”

  17. Robert McTaggart

    With regard to the university presidency…I think I will pass. Let’s get me to full professor first!

  18. Robert McTaggart

    With regard to the siting of a nuclear waste facility in South Dakota, I don’t think my opinion would change whether we had a reactor or not. Siting such a facility is a complex engineering task, plus the people who live there have to support it.

    More or less, the number one task of a waste facility is to keep radionuclides from getting into groundwater. Our skin is a pretty good shield against external radiation, but ingestion bypasses those defenses. Nuclides in the waste tend to be bone-seekers, which means the body will put them in bone, which can impact blood production.

    The human body does a really good job at dealing with low levels of radiation everyday, but high doses in short amounts of time cause a problem. There is some debate about low doses over a very long time, and we’ve basically set our regulations to take that potential off of the table.

    For Yucca Mountain they had to evaluate the risk that a volcano would occur out in the middle of the desert over the next million years or so. That is how far they push the environmental impact factors.

    I do think that South Dakota would be a good location for a small nuclear reactor in the future, as those would be right-sized for our electrical demand, or they could specialize in a task off the grid, like providing waste heat to process biofuel or something.

  19. Lanny V Stricherz

    Dr McTaggert, you wrote, “Siting such a facility is a complex engineering task, plus the people who live there have to support it.”

    Surely you jest!!! Many of the people whose land the Keystone I crosses, wanted no part of it, but contrary to our Constitution, our Federal government as well as our state government gave a foreign company the right to eminent domain their land anyway. The same with the uranium mines west river and the not cleaned up former sites, which continue to cause cancer in our native population. Same can be said for CAFOs which proliferate Easter South Dakota, as the means of economic development, with the public’s opinion be damned.

  20. Robert McTaggart

    With regard to the transport of nuclear waste, I believe that is safe. They over-test those things, fire missiles into them, airplanes, whatever. The shielding necessary to protect the waste also does a really good job at cutting down the radiation coming from said waste.

    Today we are storing our nuclear waste at the site of generation. After it cools down for a while it is moved to concrete dry casks…maybe not right next to the reactor, but somewhere on the utility’s property. It is just that there is nowhere else to put them at the moment.

    In my opinion, the spent nuclear fuel will be moved to centralized, secure locations. It would be better in the long run to build the reactors that recycle the fuel in situ. You reduce the mining of uranium that is necessary, you have less waste to store, and you get rid of plutonium.

    Plutonium is a concern because unlike other radioisotopes that emit penetrating gamma rays, plutonium is primarily an alpha emitter, which means it is safer to handle. Right now it is cheaper to isolate the plutonium than to reprocess it and get more electricity out of it.

  21. I s there a group with the pensions tomorrow on main avenue in Sioux Falls, will they be by Rounds office and Noem.

  22. Robert McTaggart


    I take off points from my students’ assignments for not including the units in their calculations, so I believe in doing things the right way. In this context that means doing the work that is necessary to earn the public’s consent. These are long-term projects, so that local support is crucial.

    Sometimes there are other locations that want to host a certain facility. But just because the public wants a nuclear facility there, doesn’t mean it should go there. If the site isn’t suitable, or security is in question, it is not going there.

  23. The free market killed the coal industry. RIP. Sure, it still lingers, but its dying and likely will be dead in a generation, certainly within two generations. It’s simple math. William Stanley Jevons authored, “The Coal Question; An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal Mines” – accurately predicting Britain’s peak coal in the early 19-teens (1913 was peak coal). Jevons fortuitously wondered whether his nation should rely on non-renewable energy. Coal is no longer minded in the UK. Coincidentally, between peak coal and WWI in the same decade – Britain declined from being the peak world power and now barely hangs on being the 8th.

    The Powder River Basin’s Campbell County produces over 40% of our nation’s coal. The coal regions of Pennsylvania and West Virginia are fractions of what they once were. So in addition to the free market challenges of inexpensive gas, solar, wind, and other sources – coal is a dead industry. Check out this article and the graph.

  24. Dr. McTaggart, it’s good to see you on this forum. In a previous post, Rohrschach refers to an article which, I believe, concerned the use of thorium in salt bath reactors. As someone largely ignorant of the technology, I can’t seem to find anything definitive about whether this is a viable alternative but if the claims of those promoting it are anywhere near factual it would seem to be almost a miracle cure for our nuclear power problems. Can you shed some light on this? Does thorium have any real promise as an energy source or is it merely an internet-promulgated pipe dream?

  25. Lanny V Stricherz

    I agree John, and yet as little as ten years ago, the State of South Dakota was promoting coal as an economic development issue in three different areas, Big Stone II, Basin Electric at Selby and expansion of the DM&E to haul coal to those places and eastward.

    That is why at a time when we are expanding our renewable capability, it is important that we stand against all attempts at fossil fuel development and any other form that can permanently damage our environment, such as nuclear power or uranium mining.

  26. Robert McTaggart


    Yes, I can talk about thorium reactors. Uranium-235 occurs in 0.72% of all uranium. Thorium is 100% Thorium-232. That isotope does not fission, but Uranium-233 does, and it can be produced from Thorium.

    So the hope of thorium reactors is based on several factors. First, there is a lot more thorium around than uranium. Second, it is much harder to make a nuclear weapon out of Uranium-233. Not impossible, but it emits a very hard gamma ray. That messes up the control of the nuclear reaction necessary for a nuclear weapon. Third, the waste stream is not as long-lived. Fourth, one can reprocess the molten salt a lot easier than the fuel pellets today which are essentially a glass.

    Fifth, there is some safety to the simpler design because we are not relying on water. So they may not need to be located near bodies of water.

    The big hurdle to using thorium reactors is the intermediary isotope that is produced, Protactinium-233. That isotope eats neutrons and spits out photons, which means it removes neutrons that would otherwise produce a fission. There are also challenges for materials that deal with higher radiation fluxes and higher temperatures in thorium reactors. But if they can solve those items, these will be more efficient than today. India tends to be the nation most interested in them due to their high reserves of thorium.

  27. Robert McTaggart

    Without nuclear, we will burn more coal when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. Germany promotes renewables, but they have been burning more coal. Japan was burning more coal, but they are slowly turning on some of their reactors to avoid importing fuel.

    Technically, our coal waste has more collective radioactivity than nuclear waste due to naturally occurring radioisotopes, but because there is so much coal waste the concentration is pretty small. I think that if one collected our personal equivalent of the nuclear waste we generate over a lifetime, it could fit into a soda can. The difference in waste volumes between nuclear and the other energy sources is that stark.

    I would think that for coal to continue, they need to emit the same carbon that natural gas does. We’ll see if coal plants with or without carbon capture can meet that threshold.

  28. Douglas Wiken

    Dr. McTaggart, several years ago, I sent information to the Physics Dept at SDSM&T about Thorium salt reactors and got zero response. The reactors were tested and worked well, but Admiral Rickover wanted only Uranium systems because they produced the fuels and weapons grade Isotopes he wanted. That pretty well killed the Thorium research. Several books have since been written on those systems. From what I read it appeared that Thorium salt reactors made a lot of sense and solved several problems. If what I read was correct, it is much easier to build large and small Thorium systems and they can be controlled with ease compared to the Uranium systems. They can also be designed to shut down without a lot of expensive control systems if they over-react or whatever is the correct term. The Thorium salt essentially drains out of the system. Montana is apparently loaded with Thorium.

    It seems to me that if SDSM&T wants to get into an area with real promise, Thorium Salt reactors would be a good area.

    As I have written here before, it was a shame that US-Soviet missile treaty required blowing up missile silos. It appeared to me that they would be good storage possibilities…at least for low-level radiation isotopes.

    Too many years ago, I wasted the time of a few Physics professors (Patterson, Morris, et al) at SDSM&T. But, like 2/3 of the students who start there, I did not end up with a Physics degree.

  29. Darin Larson

    Nuclear would be ok with me if it could be made more safe in operation and storage and transport of the waste. Fukishima, Chernolbyl, Three Mile Island and any other incidents that I might be forgetting make me wary of the technology. These are not to mention the fact they could be a prime target for terrorists.

    I would imagine that part of the problem has been the lack of investment in nuclear energy technology.

  30. Thank you sir. That is the most informative explanation of the subject I’ve seen, and put in a way that even this old “C-” high school grad can understand.

  31. Robert McTaggart

    With regard to 96’s concern about South Dakota’s interests in nuclear energy, I would note that Sioux Falls currently gets a good percentage of its electricity from nuclear power plants in Minnesota run by Xcel Energy. I think it is somewhere between 20% and 30% if I recall.

    But let’s suppose that Lanny wins. No nuclear reactors are ever built in South Dakota, and no nuclear waste is stored or reprocessed here, and no mining is done.

    Existing reactors and new ones being built across the globe will need parts and components, environmental assays, and contractors to provide expertise and engineering. I view that as an opportunity to diversify the economy and promote more clean energy in South Dakota.

  32. Donald Pay

    Dr. McTaggart,

    You seek to be the closest thing South Dakota has to an expert on nuclear waste. I would expect that you have seen, and maybe had some input into, the proposal submitted to the Department of Energy for testing the deep borehole disposal concept. Can you release that proposal to the public, or facilitate its release? Do you know whether Governor Daugaard or any state official or body signed off on (ie., consented to) the proposal? Do you know what state regulations may apply to the borehole test? Should this proposal, should it proceed in South Dakota, be required to submit and Environmental Impact Statement?

    Can you disclose to us the exact location that the South Dakota proposal suggested for the test? We know it is likely to be within the area disclosed in DOE documents that indicate a favorable location in northeastern SD, but when I sought further information on this through a FOIA request to DOE, they chose to deny any information to the public. Do you think hiding information from the public is a good way to approach obtaining “consent?”

    Have you listened to the Radioactive Waste Technical Review Board’s meeting, particularly where several of the scientists indicated that the site chosen for the “test” of the borehole concept would be considered the likely disposal site? Do you agree that raises significant red flags to anyone contemplating consenting to a test?

    Do you think the idea of “consent” ought to allow for a vote of the local and statewide voters, rather than just allowing the Governor to make the decision on radioactive waste matters?

    What do you think about the idea that the waste disposed in a deep borehole would not be retrievable should and accident occur in emplacement of the waste in the borehole?

  33. There’s your conspiracy, Dr. McTaggart. My friend Mr. Pay believes there is a secret book in a locked room in the Governor’s office and that only the inner circle knows about it and that there are black trucks driving around drilling boreholes. I, for one, believe the state only has one black borehole driller truck.

  34. Lanny V Stricherz

    Dr McTaggert, I just don’t see how you or any other scientist, unless you have a bias in favor of nuclear energy, can call nuclear clean. We know of all of the damage that has been done by nuclear in the past, and in particular with the only current method we have of disposing of nuclear waste, which is in nuclear armaments and weapons. Also with the amount of cancers that are experienced in the world, many of them are attributed to exposure to nuclear.

  35. Robert McTaggart

    JonD…you are welcome.

    Douglas and Darin,

    Currently much of the development for the new reactor designs occur with the national laboratories….they have the space and expertise to do that. I would imagine that if we really invested in the best reactor technologies, there would be enough for all of the universities to participate in some fashion.

    Much of the issue with the historical accidents with nuclear power has occurred due to the people, not the technology.

    Chernobyl was the most reckless of these. If you leave an American reactor alone, the power levels may oscillate, but it will not get out of control. That Russian reactor had a design flaw that allowed for the power to grow exponentially during a test, and people had no time to correct it. Plus the graphite they used to moderate the neutrons burned and dispersed radioactivity into Europe. The wildlife flourishes in Chernobyl now because the levels are low and the people are gone.

    Fukushima held up to the earthquake OK. But long before then they placed 6 reactors in proximity to each other without the staff to take care of the worst possible outcome. Their backup diesel fuel and generators were washed away by the tsunami.

    Three Mile Island in fact did not release a lot of radioactivity at all, so the containment worked. But a valve was left in the wrong position due to human error. But of all of these Three Mile Island impacted the development of nuclear energy the most because it happened here.

    There is so much concrete in reactors because of over-regulation, that you could fly a plane into these things without damaging the reactor, and they do model that with computers. I am not worried about security at all.

  36. Donald Pay


    There is no conspiracy. This is how the elite in the nuclear industry do business. They think “consent” means regular folks like you and me should just sit back and enjoying being raped. The nuclear industry has no use for you and me. We might ask too many questions. They certainly don’t think we are deserving of reading for ourselves the information they try to keep secret from us. All you need to do is read some of the news coverage from North Dakota since January. They didn’t even tell the Governor up there before they foisted this project on an unsuspecting citizenry. They were trying to backdoor it behind the Governor’s back!!! How do you know that’s not what might happen in South Dakota? I suspect not. I suspect the Governor there in South Dakota may have signed off on this project, because the people behind it are well-known to be close to Republican circles. But, I could be wrong. That’s why I want to see the proposal. I want to know for sure how far up the food chain this project was supported.

  37. Robert McTaggart

    Mr. Pay,

    Sorry, I was not involved in that particular study at all, as I am not a hydrologist or a geologist. I will not comment on the state’s processes. I did not participate in any of the related hearings or discussions.

    The DOE is currently going around the country holding public forums about developing a consent-based approach for the siting of nuclear facilities, and they take public input through various means. Much of that is available on the web for you to listen to and/or read. So they do take public consent seriously.

  38. Lanny V Stricherz

    That is right Donald Pay and that is why when challenged, Dr McTaggert or anyone in South Dakota government will toss in economic development, as the Doctor did in this quote, “Existing reactors and new ones being built across the globe will need parts and components, environmental assays, and contractors to provide expertise and engineering. I view that as an opportunity to diversify the economy and promote more clean energy in South Dakota.”

    Let the effluent from the CAFOs foul our water supplies, let the oil pipelines leak and four our water and soil, let the coal burners and refineries start up and foul our water soil and air, let the uranium miners start up again, in spite of the fact that they didn’t clean up after themselves the last time, and let them foul our water and put the largest aquifer in North America at risk.

    As long as it is done in the name of economic development, who cares if it puts our health and that of generations to come at risk.

  39. Darin Larson

    Thanks for the information, Dr. McTaggart. With all due respect, somebody better worry about the security of these plants in terms of a terrorist attack. Talk about the mother of all dirty bombs.

    Very few people foresaw the possibility of the 9/11 attacks. I have heard the same statement that the twin towers were designed to withstand a direct hit by an airplane. I would imagine you are correct that nuclear plants are designed and capable of withstanding a direct plane hit. What if the terrorists get ahold of a civilian plane and pack it with explosives? What if they get ahold of a military plane with military grade weaponry and bomb a nuclear plant near population centers? What if the big one hits California and a 9.7 earthquake hits a nuclear plant?

    These are unlikely scenarios, obviously. Unfortunately, the unlikely scenarios have to be considered with nuclear power because the consequences could be catastrophic for so many people for such a long time compared to failures with other energy sources.

  40. Robert McTaggart

    They do consider a lot of different scenarios, and I would imagine that most of them have been modeled by lots of engineers. The material at power plants is self-protecting because of the radiation, and radioactivity is easily measured and tracked. We know how to shield it and protect people from the radiation.

    Reactors today have gone through several levels of review after Three Mile Island, 9-11, and Fukushima in particular. They needed to prove that they are robust to natural disasters, man-made issues, terrorist attack, and have a plan to accommodate multiple things happening at the same time.

    One blog response is not going to convince anybody, but that is what I know.

    Thanks everyone for your patience and discussion with me this evening. Time for me to go home.

  41. Darin Larson

    Thank you for the discussion! It is an interesting field of study. No doubt about that.

  42. I would challenge my readers to find any similarly informative discussion in the comment section at Dakota War College, but you’d have to sift through so much filth to do it, I’d say the search is not worth the effort. :-)

    On the political side, note that even Dr. McTaggart is with us. If DBFT or an actual nuclear waste site were proposed for South Dakota, Dr. McTaggart would work to win popular support, but he would not advocate acting against the popular will. That’s a reasonable position.

    Battelle and DOE apparently want to minimize the time that we get to persuade the public in the area of a proposed site. I still can’t figure out who gets hurt by releasing information about sites under consideration. Is Battelle worried that listing possible sites would trigger wild land speculation? Is there any other practical reason not to release specific site information other than to avoid negative publicity and protest?

  43. Donald Pay

    I appreciate Dr. McTaggart engaging here, but I didn’t get much out of it. Other than talking around the deep borehole issue without having any real specifics, he proved to be more of a shill than I would have thought. Not commenting on “the state’s processes” is a gutless answer. I’d call how the state and the feds have hidden information on this proposal a disgrace to science, which ought to automatically disqualify the entire process. The DOE deep borehole process ought to be immediately cancelled. Let’s get the DOE and state “consent” processes in place before we foist any disposal project (or “test” of such) onto the state’s citizens. And let’s take the entire process out of DOE and put it into an independent agency.

  44. New documents show the climate change hypothesis is at least 48 years old. When the data first began emerging as early as the 1940s and 1957, the usual suspects (fossil fuel congressional-industrial complex) created advocacy and questioning groups challenging the science and promoting fossil fuels. Similar to what occurred when the science challenging smoking’s effects on public health first emerged in the 1930s & 1940s.
    The deliberate climate change obfuscation, coupled with the smoking snafu, raise another hypothesis: whether we should ever trust scientists and / or engineers who self-promote public policy.

  45. barry freed

    Hemp is one alternative energy source that is viable today and able to produce in a short time. Hemp oil, made from crushed seed, needs no processing to power diesel engines and generators. Also, Pound for pound, Hemp stalks produce more in a methane ingester (natural gas, minus a stink molecule) than any other plant source on the planet.
    This is very old science, but why don’t we utilize it? Because it looks like cannabis, gasp, shudder, and both liberal and conservatives join forces benefiting the coal and oil industries’ agenda to keep hemp illegal by lying about cannabis. Once again, Coke and Pepsi (and Budwieser) working in total unison to keep water criminalized and in research & development limbo.

    Another energy being wasted and polluting our oceans is the effluent coming from out wastewater plants. In Germany, for decades now, no new treatment plant is built without a methane ingester to extract the methane for power production and reduce the volume of waste. Rapid City is proposing a $41 million plant upgrade to deal with discharges, but there shouldn’t be any polluting discharge as a City official told me years ago that we have a methane ingester in the plant system. Yet they are mixing raw human excrement with yard waste to make compost. The end product of a ingester is pure nitrogen, there is no volume of material with which to mix, so it appears that official was not being truthful.

  46. Robert McTaggart

    Mr. Pay,

    I appreciate the passion of your opinions regarding transparency, but I would characterize things differently :^). You would like insider information on the matter, and I just do not have any to provide.

    How should consent work? I would call your attention to the recent election in Brookings regarding the recreation center that was to be funded (in part) by an opt-out on property taxes. The measure lost by a wide margin. Still, I think most agree it would be nice to have something like that, but they need to work on a different way of funding it. The proponents need to work harder to win the public consent, and the final outcome will be better and more sustainable as a result. But even then one is not going to get 100% acceptance.

    If we don’t do nuclear, then how do we grow the energy pie? Wind and solar energy are free, but they are neither concentrated nor timely, and the delivery to the consumer is not free. The windmills don’t start turning when we flick on the light switch, and lunar power is not working out for some reason. So we burn natural gas to make up the difference. In fact when we shut down a nuclear plant and replace it with natural gas, we may save money in the short term, but we emit more carbon!

    Nuclear power plants work best if they are producing steady energy all day. In my opinion, renewables, energy storage, and natural gas should play a larger role in delivering peak energy on top of what nuclear can deliver.

    So we need nuclear, and that means dealing with waste issues in a responsible manner (which to me includes gaining consent). The smaller reactors will be cheaper and work better in a distributed energy environment.

    Now about all of that waste from processing solar cells or not recycling the solar cells and wind turbines at the end of their life cycle…..

  47. Jake Cummings

    While I indirectly “owe” my BA to time spent with Navy nuke power and the GI Bill, I am leery of of locating waste disposal sites in South Dakota. Having said that, there may be other local Navy nukes who can offer advice on considerations and avenues to explore.

    Dr. McTaggart, I think your consent analogy might be more applicable if policymakers were proposing local property tax increases to fund said boreholes (or borehole research). If so, the research proposal likely would not pass either. Plus, it seems unlikely that if the rec. center construction and operation went haywire, it would result in environmental impacts anywhere near that which could be realized with nuclear waste.

    Also, I would hope that any consent sought be informed consent. Namely, researcher teams would include subject matter experts (SMEs) who can help illuminate possible impacts of previously unconsidered activity (such as fracking, which could influence geologic stability of proposed sites). I would hope that you consider that stakeholders may be more skeptical and unwilling to accept that these processes have already been sufficiently vetted and deemed minimal risk.

    Can you please illuminate your source for Sioux Falls’ 20-30 percent nuclear power consumption? I could not locate anything like that here:

  48. Robert McTaggart

    Thanks Jake,

    Research of course is not the problem, it is what people do with that research that can be a problem, and what research they consider or do not consider when making an opinion.

    I agree that multiple factors need to be considered when selecting a site for waste disposal. But it is somewhat incongruous to enjoy the benefits of clean air, electric cars, cell phones, refrigerators, air conditioning, televisions, and computers without being responsible for the waste issues that are a consequence of their use.

    Alas, the second law of thermodynamics does not permit a 100% efficient process, so all forms of energy production produce waste. For nuclear the primary concern is not volume but radioactivity, which means the final waste form will require secure isolation from the environment. If it were up to me (and it isn’t), I would reprocess the fuel to reduce both the amount of waste and its radioactivity.

    I’m trying to find the article without much success at the moment with regard to Xcel Energy. It appeared in the Argus Leader a while back, but I wrote an article to the Pierre Capital Journal with that number around November, 2014:

    “While South Dakota does not have a nuclear power plant, it will be negatively impacted by the proposed EPA regulations on nuclear power. Xcel Energy reports that almost 30% of the electricity consumed by Sioux Falls already comes from nuclear energy generated in Minnesota.”

  49. Lanny V Stricherz

    Thanks John, I certainly agree with your comments at 8:28 AM today. Add to that the fact that we continue to subsidize the oil companies, bailed out the auto industry, but cannot give an extended tax deduction to the producers of the cleaner forms of energy, to say nothing of a subsidy.

    I don’t know if we give nuclear power a tax break or subsidy as such, but I would presume since it is run by DOE, we are paying for it.

    How about continuing tax breaks for wind and solar, like Senator Thune got extended a few years ago and making them permanent and even considering some subsidies, if that is what it would take to make them the viable energy source that we need.

    Dr McTaggert talks of smaller nuclear plants as being part of the answer. Many folks have tried to get their own wind plants to be paid for any excess power that they produce and put back into the system, but at least in South Dakota, we don’t seem to want to do that.

    A combination of paying small producers for their excess energy, a start up subsidy and tax TIF, and a concerted scientific subsidy to research the increased capability to store energy during times when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing might in fact be the way to get us out of the fossil fuel mess and the dependence on a source that we know has already killed thousands, i.e. nuclear.

  50. Donald Pay

    The idea that South Dakotans should be guilt-tripped into accepting a nuclear waste dump because Minnesota’s regulatory agency made the mistake of allowing nuclear power to become part of NSP’s energy portfolio back in the 1960s and 1970s has been tried before. It’s not a very persuasive argument, as Chem-Nuclear and Bill Janklow discovered. South Dakotans didn’t have a vote on that, or hardly any way to impact Minnesota’s decisions. People have to understand that nuclear power comes with an intractable problem. It is really rather short-sighted to be pushing more of something that generates wastes that can’t be adequately dealt with.

  51. Jake Cummings

    Dr. McTaggart, Excel’s website ( lists two nuclear powerplants — Monticello and Prairie Island. This Star Trib article: indicates Monticello provides power to 500k customers in MN. Sorry for the sensationalist connection to fisheries impact, but that was the first source I could find that detailed Monticello’s utility consumers.

    I cannot find information regarding consumers of Prairie Island’s nuclear power; however, is there a chance that data cited in Excel’s 2016-2030 Resource Plan ( indicating that nuclear power represents 30 percent of Excel’s Upper Midwest electricity was applied to Sioux Falls by default? If so, I think those conclusions are suspect.

    Moreover, this article summarizes concerns about nuclear power’s economic viability that could have bearing on both sides of this debate: Namely, if the Prairie Island plant closes (which Excel has apparently broached to MN’s PUC), consumers lose a source of power, albeit one that will purportedly be replaced prior to nuclear deactivation, AND we’ll have to develop increased means to dispose of waste.

  52. We’ve got different perspectives on this issue in the comments section. Don’t put me in the column of completely anti-nuclear power, but let’s get real about why we are where we are on the issue of the nuke waste dilemma.

    History clearly shows this nation jumped into the industry without thinking through the consequences of where they sited several of these plants, the excessive size of the plants, emergency protections and thorough oversight of private firms involved in all the many aspects of obtaining, storing, handling and using the fuel and, now, disposing of it. The trend is now to build smaller nuclear power facilities with smarter placement to prevent and contain possible disasters. I strongly support clean energy to slow down and stop what will surely be the greatest man-made disaster, climate change created by overuse of fossil fuels. Nuclear power to replace coal generation is an important component of transitioning to a clean energy economy. I also hope that technology development will some day eliminate the risk of using plutonium for power generation, but the greater need right now is replacing fossil fuels by all means at hand.

    I very strongly oppose selecting South Dakota as the site for the waste site, and not because of a NIMBY attitude. South Dakota’s track record stinks when it comes to environmental protections both in its laws and regulations and in its jaded oversight and public protections.

    The legislature and the governor’s office has, since Janklow’s first tenure, a sleazy reputation of pandering behind closed doors to reckless projects from the worst corporations: The SDDS national landfill project, the very unpopular low-level dump project, the National Hog Farm project next to the Oahe Reservoir, heap leech leaks of cyanide into the Cheyenne River basin from strip mining the Black Hills, very poor or zero reclamation of destroyed lands from strip mining the Black Hills, the greased skids to approve both Keystone pipelines, mega-dairy projects in the I-29 corridor that pose ecological risks to lakes and waterways and the infamous sewage ash project to mill gold and silver from sewer sludge generated in the Twin Cities and shipped to our Black Hills. These are the ones that come to mind. There are probably more.

    If we have learned anything from these ridiculous projects and from the recent EB-5 racketeering scam (and coverup) and the MCIC/Gear Up scandals is you have no reason to believe South Dakota authorities can be trusted to protect our interests. Contrary to grud’s observation, this is not loony conspiracy blather. It’s the real record of a blatantly corrupt state system.

    I do not oppose a nuke dump. Locating it in South Dakota — forever! — is an invitation to a very deadly and costly disaster. (Considering our legal system won’t chase after big fish, it’s most likely that multiple disasters will occur as time marches on.) The schmucks in charge of our state government will only hear the dinner bell to yet another feast for cronies and will disregard any protections as costly burdens. Regulations BAD! Payoffs GOOD!

    And I do appreciate Bob McTaggert’s willingness to discuss his views here. I encourage him to keep explaining them.

  53. Robert McTaggart

    With regard to nuclear killing thousands, I think you are mixing up nuclear weapons with commercial nuclear power.

    Nuclear waste cannot fission on its own, so one is not going to have a nuclear explosion from nuclear waste. When fission occurs, the heavy U-235 breaks up into two smaller nuclei…usually one heavier than the other one. These will eat neutrons and spit out photons, instead of eating one neutron and spitting out 2 or 3 neutrons as in fission. So they rob the waste of fissionable neutrons. The isolation is done to prevent bad actors from being able to extract any plutonium that could be used in a weapon.

    These fission by-products are also responsible to some degree for early accidents in nuclear power, when they expected an increase in power but were simply consuming the by-products. Then the power went up too quickly after those by-products were removed.

    The radioactivity of course is not the only concern. Many of these elements are heavier metals that have some chemical toxicity. However, nuclear waste is the only location where brand-new rare earth metals are being produced. So if you like wind power, you should like reprocessing and the avoidance of poor environmental mining practices in China.

    With regard to getting rid of plutonium, besides reprocessing the alternative is not making it in the first place. The thorium cycle would do that to a large extent. We get some of our electricity today from plutonium because U-238 sometimes eats a neutron and becomes Pu-239, which can fission. Harder to get to Pu-239 from U-233 by similar processes.

    Yes, permanent waste would be here for a long, long time. Interim locations that move the waste away from the power plants and secure it in a better facility could be an option. One could then remove the waste to somewhere else if necessary. The question comes down to how to pay for it, and probably one needs to pay into a fund with a surcharge per kilowatt, and then live off of the interest to run the facility as long as you need to.

  54. Lanny V Stricherz

    Dr McTaggert as a scientist, as has been stated elsewhere on this blog, you are going to continue to defend what in my opinion is the indefensible. You call it clean when it has done a lot of damage and will continue to do so for a couple of million light years.

    It is ironic that we have sanctioned and badgered Iran on developing its nuclear capability when we are so darn sure that she is going to develop nuclear weapons to defend herself against Israel should Israel happen to decide to use its nuclear weapons. It is called deterrence. At the same time our President and Congress are talking about spending a trillion (that’s with a tr) dollars to upgrade our nuclear capability while at the same time we have agreed to rid ourselves of our nuclear armaments.

    Combining the nuclear weapons industry with the nuclear energy industry and then adding in the depleted uranium weapons industry, there is no question in this poorly educated nimwit’s mind, that this is all about proliferating the uranium industry along with the aforementioned industries. The four sites below, indicate that my number of deaths in the thousands is correct.

  55. Douglas Wiken

    Another problems with Uranium systems is that the energy costs for building one are not recovered for many years. The Thorium plants could be built for less. A demonstration plant worked for 5 years back in the 1960s. Some information below

    As Prof. indicated, the US is cooperating with China on Thorium reactor design. Information on that below.

    If Thorium reactors really are the answers to multiple problems with nuclear reactors, it seems to me that we do not want to be in a position where we again end up importing systems from
    China originally developed in the US.

    As I have indicated before, the problem with so-called stranded and intermittent wind can be partially solved by using such power to produce anhydrous ammonia and methanol. A Nobel prize winner wrote a book on “The Methanol economy”. With our SD wind and sunshine, SDSM&T and SUSD might better be working on utilizing that in state instead of being tied to PUC ideas of exporting all such power. The Danes use electricity generated by wind at night to charge batteries on electric cars. There are many options that may make more sense for SD than finding a new isolated place to bury nuclear waste.

  56. All of Mr. Taggart’s industry talking point BS aside, SD has a law in place for exactly this reason. No nuclear waste can be stored in SD without it going to a public ballot measure vote. Why is this on the books? Because SD is considered an easy target and there have been attempts to turn it into a nuclear dump before.

    So if anyone starts trying to arrange this “test site” that is not a test site but the prelude to siting a large high level nuclear dump, they should be stopped in their tracks. It would be illegal to even do the test siting without the consent of the voters.

    Mr. Taggart should spend a year living in the evacuation zone of Fukushima. It may cause him to rethink his nuclear cheerleading.

  57. Robert McTaggart


    The duration of roughly one million years that you refer to assumes that there are no technologies that would reduce that significantly. They exist, but they are pretty expensive. Reprocessing and selecting a different fuel cycle are possible. So is “transmutation” which uses accelerator technology to bust up the long-lived isotopes into shorter-lived versions. In principle one can convert a couple of hundred thousand year problem into a couple hundred year problem.

    Try calculating how much energy we will need if the rest of the world used the same energy per capita that we do, which I think is a good goal if you want to bring the rest of the world out of poverty. Assume the population grows to 10 billion people. Then calculate how much land we will need for the solar and wind farms, and how much carbon will be emitted by the natural gas plants to achieve full capacity (including methane leaks).

    There are reasons not to do 100% nuclear, but given that calculation nuclear should be a significant partner with the other clean energy technologies to get things done.

  58. Robert McTaggart


    Thanks for your comments. The success of any such site would be strengthened by a positive public vote, so I am fine with proponents needing to meet that bar and improve their plans and public outreach accordingly.

    I would also concur that the company running the Fukushima plants were not prepared for all contingencies, and did not dedicate the necessary resources or planning.

    Dr. McTaggart.

  59. Donald Pay


    It’s very complex. The Legislature may have repealed the Nuclear Waste Vote Initiative in a 100+ page bill supposedly meant to repeal “obsolete laws.” It no longer is in code. The low-level waste portion of the initiative may have been partly subsumed by South Dakota’s entry into the Southwestern States Low-Level Waste Compact. That compact almost is a 100% guarantee that South Dakota will not host a low-level radioactive waste dump. However, there is no reason not to have left that portion of the initiative on the books, as it was not obsolete. It only needed to be slightly amended to conform to case law and the compact.

    However, that initiative also included provisions that applied to attempts by the federal government to site a high-level radioactive waste facility in South Dakota (such as a borehole for disposal), and those may also have been repealed. They no longer show up in code. However, none of the high level waste provisions were “obsolete,” certainly not at the time they were included in a bill with a false title. So, we have a conundrum. Can legislation be repealed if the title of the bill repealing it is demonstrably misleading and an outright lie, as was the case in the 1987 repealer bill? Does the fact that a few legislators lied and misled the public, the vast majority of legislators and the Governor by using a hundred page bill with a lying bill title to repeal what they claimed was an “obsolete bill,” but was not?

    I don’t know the answer to that question. It could be taken to court, and litigated. Does a false bill title cause the bill to be invalidated? Maybe there is case law on this already.

    At any rate the 1984 initiative language would have to be amended and updated, and it might just be better to enact new legislation that is even stronger than the 1984 initiative.