Illinois Republican Prefers Feds Dictate Where Boreholes and Nuclear Waste Go

Rep. John Shimkus
Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL): for nukes, against local control

The Department of Energy insists that it is applying its new principle of “consent-based siting” to both the Deep Borehole Field Test, which will involve no nuclear material, and to future nuclear waste dump projects. In other words, DOE promises that if locals don’t want either the Borehole experiment or an actual nuclear waste repository in their backyard, DOE won’t dig or dump there.

Some Spink County opponents of the Borehole experiment have noticed this March 2, 2016, hearing of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, in which Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois tells Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz that seeking public approval for projects like this is illegal:

Now I want to move to boreholes for a second. You have strongly advocated for the development of boreholes to dispose of a small amount of DOE’s inventory of defense nuclear waste. This initiative is concurrent to your initiative to develop a, quote-unquote, “consent-based” siting process, which, as you know, contradicts the Nuclear Waste Policy Act — contradicts, or it is not in compliance with. There is no provision for this in the current law [Rep. John Shimkus, draft transcript of hearing, House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, 2016.03.02].

Note that Rep. Shimkus avidly supports nuclear energy. His home state of Illinois has six active nuclear power plants, more than any other state. Those plants hold their own nuclear waste in storage on site. Rep. Shimkus is fighting to move that waste out of Illinois and into Yucca Mountain. In the March 2 transcript, Rep. Shimkus hectors Secretary Moniz to give up on boreholes and reopen Yucca Mountain:

Here is my problem. When I taught high school, the executive branch, per the Constitution, is designed to enforce the laws of the land. We do that telling kids that they have agencies and Secretaries that help enforce the law. It is unfortunate that you have been part of an administration that is not enforcing the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. And it is subverting the intent of the law. And it is particularly troubling in that this, quote-unquote, “consent-based” process, which you use to discourage, attack, obfuscate the long-term location of Yucca Mountain and use a State-based discussion where you now talk about boreholes, you try to ram it through county-based organizations without even a State-based discussion. So the Department of Energy continues to hypocritically move to obfuscate, delay, break the law. And I wish, for the sake of the republic, that the administration would abide by the law [Shimkus, 2016.03.02].

Rep. Shimkus is arguing against giving the public veto power over nuclear waste sites in favor of moving waste out of his state to a shuttered site out of state as quickly as possible. Rep. Shimkus was also opposed to letting Secretary Moniz respond to the Congressman’s interrogation. After a couple minutes of wrangling, Committee Chairman Ed Whitfield gave Secretary Moniz the mic:

I will just respond narrowly to the North Dakota borehole. That’s all I was responding to. I want to emphasize that the statement that this somehow is not consistent with a consent-based approach does not apply. This is not a nuclear facility. This is a scientific experiment which clearly may have, depending upon results and where analysis goes, may have implications as a useful high-level waste disposal approach. It also may be useful for engineered geothermal systems. This is a science experiment. It did not have any consent-based process. And we never do that for grants for science experiments. So it is apples and oranges [Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, 2016.03.02].

The Department of Energy is trying to forge a new policy in which locals get to decide whether they will host a nuclear waste dump. It is testing that policy out with the nuclear-free Borehole project. Rep. Shimkus is defending Congress’s attempt via the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to force a nuclear waste site on a community that does not want it.

So as I read it, a Republican Congressman is arguing for greater federal power, while the Obama Administration is upholding states’ rights. Go figure.

15 Responses to Illinois Republican Prefers Feds Dictate Where Boreholes and Nuclear Waste Go

  1. Nick Nemec

    Bottom line, no one wants the stuff in their state.

  2. Donald Pay

    Shimkus is right. Consent-based siting is not in federal law. That’s why this “test” is so dangerous until the law is changed.

  3. Robert McTaggart

    It doesn’t look like the deep borehole method would be used for commercial wastes. But yes, we have not lived up to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

    None of the opponents of the Spink County project are against the safe storage of nuclear waste, nor are they against efforts to make the future storage of nuclear waste even safer (which the research would do). But it is unclear what would move the ball forward for opponents on a project with zero nuclear waste.

    Battelle has said that they will pay for a third party to assure the county that no nuclear waste material will come here. Governor Daugaard has said that any real waste facility in SD must have a public vote. DOE has said that transportation issues make SD less likely as a candidate for the military wastes.

    I don’t think one can codify public approval for a research project, but regardless of legislative agendas, DOE can always seek a public vote as part of their decision processes for siting an actual waste facility.

  4. Robert McTaggart

    Cory, I don’t think that the Senator necessarily wants to put a waste facility where a community does not want it. I get the impression that he just wants the government to live up to the promises that were made under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (and others).

    Yucca Mountain is a good location for waste storage, but they simply didn’t incorporate public input in the correct manner. That led to resistance from Harry Reid (who had the power to prevent further development of the facility) and the renewed emphasis on consent-based siting, interim storage, and other sites for permanent storage.

  5. Douglas Wiken

    “Hypocrite” is the middle name of nearly every Republican retrograde. Their hypocrisy is usually more aggravating than their idiotic issue positions.

  6. Another reason why you can’t trust people who want pop super deep holes through aquifers:

    For years, they’ve been us telling how safe it is while they pollute water on massive scales and even cause earth quakes. You just can’t trust the hole poppers – for they just want to make a buck and will tell you whatever plausible BS to persuade you to let them do it.

  7. I am for The Borehole.
    The savior of Spink County.

    I am pro-The Borehole.

  8. mike from iowa

    Yucca Mt sits in an active seismic zone-prone to earthquakes. Yeah,lets store nukular waste there and see where it eventually ends up.

  9. Robert McTaggart

    They will have specs for both the magnitude and the frequency of the earthquakes that the site must endure, as well have earthquake-resistant engineering included.

    I note that your info is from an anti-Yucca Mountain organization, not an independent body. Here is a link from the NEI to counter those allegations (from 2011):

    Since you cannot turn off the radionuclides, they will continue to decay and produce heat. The vessels would have to fail, and then any escaping radionuclides would have to use steam to escape the underground chamber, but the design removes the possibility of steam production. By spacing the vessels far enough apart, you keep the temperature low enough.

  10. mike from iowa

    If memory serves, Yucca Mt had a 4+ magnitude earthquake in June of 2002.

  11. Robert McTaggart

    Yucca was originally approved by the President on July 23, 2002. The earthquake must not have mattered too much.

  12. Robert McTaggart

    Here is a more technical review for you regarding earthquake hazards at Yucca.

    So we are both right. There are small earthquakes at Yucca, but the actual effect on motion where the waste is located is minimal. One can reduce the risk even further with some engineering.

  13. Robert McTaggart


    I thought you were pro-microbe?

  14. Dr. McT, I am also pro-microbe.
    But I think if we can get The Borehole dug and dug well, it will give the superior microbes, the ones who work harder, a chance to escape and perhaps even mutate.

    The Borehole is all #4Science you know.

  15. Robert McTaggart

    Don’t forget the geologists! #4Science #High5

    But seriously, there are value-added benefits for studies in carbon capture and geothermal associated with the drilling, even if the primary intent is studying the feasibility of this method for nuclear waste disposal.