For the Record: Daugaard Statements on Deep Borehole Field Test

Governor Dennis Daugaard is sending a representative to Wednesday’s meeting in Redfield on the Deep Borehole Field Test. That official will likely reiterate the support expressed by the Governor for the Borehole project in a 2014 letter and in a statement provided for the first Borehole meeting in Redfield on April 28.

On November 25, 2014, one month after the Department of Energy posted the Deep Borehole Field Test request for bids (DE-SOL-0007705), Governor Daugaard sent the following letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz:

Gov. Dennis Daugaard to Energy Sec. Ernest Moniz, 2014.11.25.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard to Energy Sec. Ernest Moniz, 2014.11.25.

The final paragraph is the key policy statement:

My support for the field test is predicated on the understanding that no nuclear material beyond conventional geophysical tools will be used in the conduct of these investigations and that our interest does not imply the state of South Dakota will accept nuclear waste. Any decision pertaining to storage of spent nuclear fuel must be based on results of rigorous scientific study and a favorable public vote by South Dakota citizens [Governor Dennis Daugaard, letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, 2014.11.25].

To hold to his word on that public vote, Governor Daugaard might want to prepare a constitutional amendment to restore the automatic referendum power over nuclear waste that South Dakotans created for themselves in 1984 and exercised to stop a multi-state nuclear-waste compact in 1985. The Legislature repealed that power in 1987.

Secretary Moniz acknowledged Governor Daugaard’s condition support for the Borehole project in a letter three months later:

Energy Sec. Ernest Moniz, letter to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, 2015.02.13.
Energy Sec. Ernest Moniz, letter to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, 2015.02.13 (two pages, pasted to one iage by CAH).

Secretary Moniz’s assurance appears to have sustained the Governor’s support for the Borehole project. At the April 28, 2016, Redfield meeting, DBFT contractor Battelle provided this updated statement from Governor Daugaard:

I have previously supported deep underground research at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead and in shale formations by the South Dakota School of Mines. I support the Deep Borehole project in South Dakota because it furthers our state’s leadership in underground research with no potential for that location to be used to store nuclear waste.  South Dakota is a recognized worldwide leader in this area, and I’m proud our state has the potential to continue this legacy of scientific innovation [Governor Dennis Daugaard, message read by Rod Osborne, Battelle, public meeting, Redfield, South Dakota, 2016.04.28].

These are the statements for which South Dakotans can hold Governor Daugaard accountable as we discuss whether or not to permit the Deep Borehole Field Test to take place in Spink County.

27 Responses to For the Record: Daugaard Statements on Deep Borehole Field Test

  1. mike from iowa

    What exactly does South Dakota stand to gain from all this deep borehole/underground stuff going on? Is the state reeling in money from the gubmint for research or something? Something smells about all of this stuff.

  2. Donald Pay


    You have to read the letters for content. I don’t have time right now to go into all the arguments, but consider that Daugaard wrote this letter a year and a half ago, yet never let the public in on this little secret. What else might we not know? Why do they get a year and a half, and South Dakota citizens only get a month and a half?

    Daugaard mentions “spent nuclear fuel” in his letter, but that is not the waste that would be disposed in a deep borehole. So, really, he has not saying much of anything in this letter.

    Second, Moniz does not respond to the “public vote” in his understanding of “consent-based siting.” It’s pablum and vague statements, because there is no “consent-based siting.” It’s not in statute or in rules.

    That’s why this process has to slow down, so people aren’t talking past each other about really critical specifics.

  3. Robert McTaggart

    The state has already invested heavily in the underground research that is on-going at the Homestake Mine (now called the Sanford Underground Research Facility). DOE supports activities at that site such as the long baseline neutrino experiment, which would use neutrinos from Fermilab in Chicago (a DOE laboratory) and detectors at Homestake.

    Our state universities rely upon external funding to pay for their operations. The alternatives are (a.) increase the amount of money provided by the state directly or (b.) increase tuition and fees paid by students, or (c.) reduce monies elsewhere in the state budget and allocate them toward higher education. So the more external funding the better. Most grants include facilities and administration (also called “indirect”) that universities use for operational costs, such as heat and electricity.

    There is documentation on the Board of Regents website, generally in the information provided to state legislators, about the impacts that university research has had on the South Dakota economy. Research also brings in a diversity of graduate students and faculty from around the nation and around the globe. The economic impact on the state also includes the homes that faculty members purchase and the goods they consume in the state (which is not always included in the statistics). Are not education, diversity, and reducing student debt good things?

    It is not uncommon for grant applications to have letters of support attached to them, and other parties can often submit them independently. Sounds like the governor expressed strong support for faculty researchers at SDSMT.

    The carbon sequestration studies are new to me, but not surprising when you think about it. I do think they will try to do as many cross-disciplinary activities as possible. It will be necessary to understand the nexus between heat, biology, chemistry, and geology for a safe disposal method, but they will try to get the most for their money.

  4. Robert McTaggart

    One may argue about the relative importance of certain topics that are or are not addressed in the letters, but there is a practical word limit. Technical reports posted on websites can be hundreds of pages long. High level communication tends to be a one-pager, because anything longer tends to be ignored.

  5. Donald Pay

    I think we all realize there are pages and pages of information we haven’t seen, Dr. McTaggart. I asked for the release of that information a year ago. That Freedom of Information Act request was denied. Had that request been granted, South Dakotans may have been in a position now to make an informed decision, except that we are now dealing with a different primary contractor and things have probably changed.

  6. Robert McTaggart

    Did they say why it was denied?

  7. Robert McTaggart

    Found this interview on-line.

    Transportation issues make it less likely to store the actual waste would ever come here:

    “RP – It would seem that what locals are worried about is that — if your hypothesis proves correct— you will consider putting nuclear waste here because you have already said that this is an ideal granite. If that is decided in the future, will you go through the same process in first getting the approval of the community, or would you just go forward with that?

    Osborne: So, there is no plan for nuclear waste at any point in this project. Going future, because of that aquifer that is so close to the granite, this is not a place that would be considered for nuclear waste disposal. Places that are closer to where that nuclear waste is stored, which is in the state of Washington, Idaho and South Carolina — these are the places where this waste is currently being housed. So, the idea of trucking that waste to North Dakota or South Dakota or Montana and Wisconsin, it doesn’t make scientific sense to bring it all the way here, plus the fact that this is not an acceptable place for nuclear waste disposal due to that water.”

    The volume of waste is tiny:

    “RP – How much — total— radioactive waste, would you say, is there that needs to be disposed of in the world?

    Osborne: Well, in the U.S., this kind, that T.R. mentioned…

    RD – Yes, this kind, I mean.

    Osborne: Well it is a fairly small volume, you could fit it all in a pickup truck.

    RP – So that is the total?

    Osborne: That is total.”

  8. I agree w/ don. I don’t trust daugaard’s language as not having a condition that we don’t know about. I do appreciate daugaard’s language so far. perhaps the state is so frightened of don that they are pre-emptively covering things up. don does indeed have a reputation and a history in such matters that is formidable.

  9. Robert McTaggart

    The link that Cory includes above regarding the bids to the project, solicitation number DE-SOL-0007705, is a good one. It includes what they are interested in, what other applications this could have, and the guidelines for the testing.

    The probability for an actual disposal site in Spink County happening is zero. The interview I referenced above says to me that they prefer the actual disposal sites for these military wastes to be located somewhere other than South Dakota due to transportation issues.

    However, the geology in those other locations is a little more complicated than it is here. They need to prove that this method works in the simpler geology before they test things out somewhere else.

    To make an analogy that Cory may appreciate…you don’t take differential equations right after college algebra. But if you build success and confidence at those courses in between, you will do well in differential equations.

  10. Donald Pay

    The following link provides the RFP and associated documents. Read through the sections about how they are going to determine who is awarded the contract. I don’t see how they can legally move this project down from North Dakota to South Dakota with completely new subcontractors. They are violating the terms of the RFP by doing this. This is typical of DOE behavior. They never follow their own rules.

  11. Robert McTaggart

    You mean they should pay North Dakota even though they won’t perform the duties associated with the award?

  12. Mr. Mike, in Iowa, in South Dakota it’s about the science and the learning. The Borehole will be primarily about good science.

  13. I like Donald’s question at the top: why didn’t the Governor say anything publicly about this effort in November 2014 when he penned his letter? Why didn’t we learn about the Borehole bid until Donald Pay put us on the trail last summer? If he had publicized South Dakota’s bid early and used the opportunity to build public support, might that have improved our chances of winning the bid over North Dakota in the first place?

  14. Robert McTaggart

    Sorry, I can’t speak for the governor :^).

    I note that having public support through some kind of vote was not required by the RFP. Not saying that wouldn’t be nice to have public approval in the back pocket, but there is a bit of a catch-22.

    As a researcher, if I were competing against other states for a multi-million dollar grant, I would not want letters of support or other information about the research to be released prior to the award of the grant. And you cannot have a vote without releasing as much info as possible.

    So somebody needs to figure out what could be released and when so that it is fair to all parties.

  15. Donald Pay

    No, Dr. McTaggart. The process of moving this from the awarded site (North Dakota) and the awarded partners to a different site in South Dakota with completely different partners violates that portion of the RFP that describes how they are going to score the applications to award the contract. You know, maybe not following the rules in awarding contracts doesn’t bother you, but it indicates to me an ethical lapse (and probably a legal lapse) that points to just how out of control DOE has become.

    Why aren’t we privy to how DOE scored each of the applications?

    Cory’s point is important. There could have been public input on this project led by either DOE or the State, starting a year and a half ago. Rather than be open and honest, they decided to hide this from virtually everyone in the state. Right now state citizens are starting out exactly a year and a half behind in this because the Governor, the scientists, and the DOE didn’t think enough about state citizens to have them included in the process. They wanted this process to be wham, bam, thank you ma’am.

    DOE should have considered that they needed to get consent-based siting figured out before they attempted this study.

  16. Gentlemen and Ladies, The Borehole is coming, but there will be nuclear waste slipped into its maw to slide to the bowels of the earth. It is about science.

  17. I mis-typed. There will be no nuclear waste, none whatsoever, not a drop, slipped into its maw to slide to the bowels of the earth. It is about science.

  18. Donald Pay


    Great satire: “It’s about science.” I got a good chuckle there. You are the King of South Dakota Humorists!!!

    I think we all know that if it was about science, Daugaard wouldn’t have hidden this from the public for a year and a half. The neutrino experiments at the old Homestake Mine: that’s about science. No one hid anything about that project. Daugaard can’t help himself talking about STEM efforts in South Dakota, but somehow he kept quiet about this project for a year and a half. Doesn’t that tell you that this really isn’t about science? It’s about the first step in siting a radioactive waste disposal site.

  19. Robert McTaggart

    There is a difference between Homestake and this particular study. Neutrinos are “Discovery Channel” science. Nuclear waste is the main character in a disaster movie on the Sy-Fy channel. The public response is notably different as a result.

    Mr. Pay, would you be a supporter of the deep borehole test if they were more transparent several years ago, given that there is no nuclear material coming to Spink County? Or at least allow it to proceed with environmental monitoring protocols? I wonder….

    Engagement in the processes by the public would lead to better processes and help solve the problem. In this case, SD would contribute by performing the research, not by receiving any of these wastes.

    The storage of actual nuclear wastes is different than what is being proposed in Spink County. As I have said before, I would not oppose a public vote on any kind of facility that proposes to store nuclear wastes in South Dakota, whether it be commercial or military, temporary or permanent.

    Would you accept the result if the public voted for it?

  20. barry freed

    So they dig a hole and fill it with poison. Then comes another Madrid earthquake* (real life disaster, not a sci-fi movie, due in the next second, geologically speaking) and severs the bore hole. Now we have poison deep in the earth and something went wrong, how do we retrieve the poison?

    Seems like a “pickup truck load” of poison is better dealt with above ground where it can be watched. The poison at the bottom of an impossibly deep hole appears to serve irreversible disposal rather than safety.

    Mr. Taggart,
    Since you approve of the scheme, maybe they will provide to you the info denied Mr. Pay under the FOIA. How can the public make an informed vote if they are denied the information needed to make a good decision? We are smart enough; we may not have PHD’s, but you don’t see us condemning Solar Power because it makes shade.
    Also, where is your citation for the claim: ” SD… not receiving any of these wastes.”


  21. Robert McTaggart

    I note that for Yucca Mountain they had to assess the probability of a volcano developing under the desert over the next million years….so I think they can assess the effect of a Madrid-like earthquake on the stability of the borehole and the security of the wastes. Who knows, could be one more reason why actual wastes will not be stored here. But the research can be done here.

    Yet somehow the Madrid earthquake is not a concern for all of the natural gas that we are extracting, which we will be doing more of as we try to depend on more solar and wind.

    Retrievability is an issue that may effect whether this method is used to store waste. There is a chance that the Yucca Mountain style of waste storage will be favored instead due to retrievability.

    When the waste is underground, 3 miles underground to be exact, it is no longer a target for a surface attack. Which would disperse the radionuclides. Which would impact agriculture. Farmers will say that the dose is low and that no health effects can be proven, which will probably be correct. But that won’t matter to large sections of the public whose fears have been stoked about radiation. So why not do the research to help take that possibility off the table?

  22. Robert McTaggart

    I queried about their response to Mr. Pay…haven’t seen it yet. I also have no super-powers to convince others to produce the information you want. No time machine, no super-powers….what is up with that?

    It is a good question how they will incorporate public consent and when they make a go or no-go decision on the research. I don’t know the answer to that one. But holding a true public vote on the matter means the costs of holding an election. Easier to do in November so a special election is not necessary.

    The interview that I linked to above discusses the viability of disposing these wastes in South Dakota. Transportation appears to be one of the issues. It will be easier if the waste is transported a shorter distance from the facilities that currently store them, but they need to learn how to construct boreholes in more complicated geologies at those locations. South Dakota geology at this site is simpler: Walk before you can run.

    They will also plug up the boreholes so nothing can be buried in there when the research is done. Retrievability has not been sorted out. So the more I hear, the less likely those military wastes will be stored here.

    I know you would like absolutes, but you don’t get that in the world of risk management….instead you get probabilities that fall below a threshold, and then you do not worry about it. If there actually were an attack on a surface site that spread radionuclides, the whole calculus would change. So room for flexibility will always be there.

  23. Donald Pay

    Here is the information I was provided regarding denial of my Freedom of Information Act request from the Freedom of Information Act office for the Idaho Office of the Department of Energy:

    “By law [National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997, Pub L. No. 104-201, §821, 110 Stat. 2422] contractor proposals and contractor names are not subject to release under Exemption 3 of the Freedom of Information Act. The information as to who is responding with proposals to the solicitation is also proscribed from release.”

    I have submitted a FOIA request regarding the contract signed by the current Contractor, which I was assured by the same Idaho office would be disclosable under FOIA. That assumes the contract has been signed. I am still unsure whether Battelle has officially signed any contract with DOE, of if that contract has been voided, in which case I don’t know whether I will be denied information again.

  24. mike from iowa

    Prof-didn’t you at one time state your time machine only went forward? This is not an indictment of you. Please keep your hands down, people are watching.

  25. well, 1st of all, well place consultant friends of daugaard and Regents likely stand to get paid.

    then there is the fact that DOE is state shopping for a place to bury the most dangerous substances known to universe-kind. and daugaard is keeping it on the down low. just like EB5 and MCEC. NOW they are forced to talk about these things.

  26. Donald Pay

    Dr. McTaggart,

    To answer your question above, it doesn’t help to project backward in time. Yes, greater transparency would have been better, but my support for a test of the deep borehole concept would require a number of things at this point. Transparency is one. I think the Blue Ribbon Commission had some great ideas for reforming the whole federal radioactive waste program. So far Congress has not acted. Let’s get those reforms enacted and the programs lifted from DOE and put under the proposed broad-based commission before we go ahead with this project. That commission would then be able to promulgate some decent rules on the borehole test and consent-based siting. Then there is the issue of changes that have been made in the Freedom of Information Act that make it nearly impossible to get real time information. Those “reforms” in the 1990s went too far, and result in a lack of transparency where “contractors” or “consultants” are used. Those need to be revisited. So, you can see, a lot would have to be done before I would entertain the idea.

  27. Robert McTaggart

    It sounds like they know what information would need to be released and under what conditions it would be accessible under current law.

    Yes, we should learn lessons from the past, but we can only work to make the future better. Aren’t you guys tired of the recent politics where the big problems seem not to be addressed? We are the government, so we have to solve said problems.

    I liked the Blue Ribbon Commission Report as well. However, I would argue that the current proposed research in Spink County would provide valuable information about the deep borehole disposal method for consideration by consent-based processes. The experience of interacting with the community in Spink County will also have a terrific benefit to establishing better practices and methods for any future processes that consider actual nuclear waste. But if you don’t do the research, we lose both those benefits.

    We are not talking about delivering actual nuclear waste to South Dakota. And the camel is walking away from the tent the more I learn about this. There is a stronger preference for storing the actual waste closer to their present storage site due to transportation issues. But the geology is different, so they need to test things out on a simpler geology first…which Spink County has.

    I agree with you that many of the suggestions of the Blue Ribbon Commission regarding consent-based processes and Congressional support for the safe isolation of our nuclear wastes, both military and commercial, should be in place prior to the consideration of accepting nuclear wastes into any state. Those processes will be enhanced by the work proposed in Spink County.