Haakon County Plans More Meetings on Borehole; Daugaard Still Supports

KOTA-TV reports that more than 60 people attended the Haakon County Commission meeting in Philip yesterday to hear about the proposed Deep Borehole Field Test. The commission took no action but said it will hold more public meetings on the proposal to drill one or two three-mile-deep holes under Haakon County to test both drilling technology and the suitability of deep bedrock for disposing of nuclear waste.

Borehole proponent and possible landlord M.R. Hansen and borehole opponent Jen Jones. Screen caps from KOTA-TV, 2016.12.06.
Borehole proponent and possible landlord M.R. Hansen and borehole opponent Jen Jones. Screen caps from KOTA-TV, 2016.12.06.

Haakon County landowner M.R. Hansen brought the project to the commission’s attention in September, when he let them know Ohio-based Battelle, Rapid City-based RESPEC, and the School of Mines were talking with him about acquiring his land for the project. Hansen told KOTA yesterday, “There is only benefit for us in terms of learning something, science and engineering—STEM education….” He has also told the commission that there’s financial benefit: a million dollars in local business revenue (engineers buying sandwiches) and ten million dollars statewide. But come now: there is always risk, like the possibility that the drill could get stuck halfway down and the drillers wouldn’t put up a large enough bond to cover the cost of plugging the hole.

Jen Jones sees risk. I’m willing to assume that her comments to the commission were more detailed, given the hefty sheaf of papers in her hand. But she gave KOTA this vague indictment of the project: “I am in favor of the science of this; however, if we open up this door to finding out the science of digging that deep into the ground, what else are we opening up the door to?”

Let’s be specific: the one thing to which opponents of this project don’t want our door opened is nuclear waste. Battelle, Mines experts, the U.S. Department of Energy, and everybody else associated with this project has repeated that the boreholes involved in this project will not be used for nuclear waste, but nobody trusts anybody anymore, so an engineering project to investigate how to more safely and permanently dispose of existing nuclear waste becomes a no-nukes rallying point.

This research could as easily close doors as open them. Start drilling in Haakon County, and Battelle and RESPEC could find out the bedrock is too tough, too fractured, or too shifty to drill the perfectly straight holes necessary for depositing waste canisters three miles deep.

Governor Daugaard continues to support the Deep Borehole Field Test. He didn’t drive to Philip (he was busy yesterday drilling holes in IM22), but last week he told KOTA that he views the Borehole as “a natural extension of South Dakota’s leadership” in underground scientific research. (Sorry—I can’t help but think that Trumpism may drive all honest scientific research underground.)

KOTA reports that Battelle and Respec are competing with at least four other borehole bids. Batelle was also considering a site in Alabama, but the Newton Town Council rejected their overtures (for the borehole, are they undertures?) based on concerns about contaminating the Choctawhatchee River and groundwater and unease with something less than openness from Battelle:

The measure said, “there has been a veil of secrecy created by Battelle with the experiment” and that the company refuses to reveal which government officials provided letters of support because it is considered part of “proprietary” information. The motion also states, “This smacks of covert political behavior and undermines the transparency the Battelle officials have promised” [Jan Murray, “No Support from Newton on Nuclear Waste Experiment,” Southeast Sun, 2016.11.02].

Canada is working on siting a similar borehole project to dispose of its 2.6 million used nuclear bundles. The Canadian borehole repository would cost 22.8 billion Canadian dollars.

24 Responses to Haakon County Plans More Meetings on Borehole; Daugaard Still Supports

  1. Donald Pay

    What is the scientific benefit of this project? None. It is a disposal project, period.

    Go back into the history of this project. There isn’t any hint of benefit for STEM eduction listed in the Department of Energy “studies” of “Deep Borehole Disposal.” Here is what they say this project is for:

    “Demonstration Site Selection – This task will locate the demonstration borehole at a site that is representative of the geology and other characteristics that would be encountered if DBD would be implemented in the future. In addition to establishing site selection guidelines, this task also ensures that regulatory permits for borehole construction and demonstration are in place for implementing the DBD demonstration project.”


    The is from a 2012 DOE publication. It sets this project up as the first step in a project that has as its end result disposal of radioactive waste, preferably at the site where the test is done.

    As you read through other DOE studies and other information on borehole demonstration project in later years you will notice how the project gains a lot of bells and whistles meant for no purpose other than to sell the project to states and local government officials. STEM education is simply a way to sell the research to the local academic interests and get them on board.

    You see any mention of STEM education, or geotechnical research leading to anything (such as geo-thermal energy production) other than disposal of high-level radioactive waste in this initial description of this project? No, because this program is for disposal of radioactive wastes only. All the other stuff they mention is just marketing.

  2. Porter Lansing

    Becoming the spent energy capital of USA is an opportunity for SoDak to be prominent in an area … any useful area beats mediocrity.
    Once the process starts, many ancillary projects and studies will follow. Time to think with logos and disregard the pathos.

  3. Donald Pay

    That reminds me of the time I was involved in an issue near the Rosebud Reservation. I was out on some land owned by an Indian rancher. We were walking through the prairie and he was giving me buffalo beans to eat. He told me that a lot of city-based white people might look at this prairie and say, “There’s nothing out here. What do you care if they turn this empty land into a dump?” He told me that anyone who knew what they were doing could live out there forever, and not need a penny. He said what most bothered him is the idea that the land is “nothing” if it didn’t have a dump on it. That’s what they want you to think, because then it’s easy for you to grab onto their version of something that’s far worse than mediocrity.

    I look at these projects as the the very essence of mediocrity, or worse. It’s the argument they always use. The will say, “You guys out here are mediocre. Why not be like us?” Uh, no.

  4. Knock knock…Lone Tree’s first cousin is at the door. If you open the door, more and more nuke waste will be dumped here along with everything else. Philip has the rail there as well to haul this crap, right through Pierre, Wall, Rapid City…lovely

  5. Robert McTaggart

    Once again, if you are against nuclear waste, you should allow them to proceed with the test. There is every chance that they will find this method is not suitable or feasible.

    But if it is safe, then those who protest nuclear wastes that actually live next to those storage locations today will approve of its proper disposal.

  6. mike from iowa

    Before he has been coronated and only a month after declaring himself a landslide winner for Potus, this scumbag has managed to tork five nations that have nukes. He has set India and Pakistan at loggerheads as well as Russia, China and North Korea all because he refuses to follow protocol and involve the State Department and National Security services. Besides he is a freaking moron, know-it-all-not! Maybe we won’t need to store nuke wastes.

  7. Robert McTaggart

    Donald…from the file you linked to. Where does it say that the test site is the preferred location for the actual location?

    “Site selection for a deep borehole disposal site would be a more complex process than the siting process for the DBD demonstration project for a number of reasons. Actual disposal of nuclear waste would likely be much more controversial activity from a social and political perspective than the DBD demonstration project. In this sense, site selection for DBD program would involve a more extensive stakeholder outreach program and more complex political engagement than locating the DBD demonstration project. Site selection for a DBD facility would also involve consideration of waste transportation costs and infrastructure, which could vary considerably depending on the disposal site location relative to waste storage or nuclear power plant locations. A DBD facility would also require a larger site and a longer-term commitment than the DBD demonstration project, which would be important considerations in the site selection process.”

  8. Robert McTaggart

    Mike, what I think he is trying to do is make his deal. Start out from a far away distance, and then have the other side use up their leverage trying to negotiate back to something reasonable. But he is definitely going out there.

  9. They are slowly working there way to Edgemont. Back to the original site of Lone Tree. Haakon County knows that they will be a dump and they probably will not go for it if they are smart enough to figure out that Daugaard is full of beans as usual.

  10. Robert McTaggart

    Edgemont would not be a good location for waste disposal.


    “The mine sites also include large soil and mine-waste piles. The Powertech sampling of that soil and waste detected concentrations of the radium isotope Ra-226 and the thorium isotope Th-230 that exceeded cancer risk screening benchmarks. Additionally, some samples exceeded the Ra-226 concentration standards of the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act.

    But the EPA contractor’s September 2015 sampling of sediment and water downstream from the mines did not detect concentrations of hazardous substances in excess of three times the natural or “background” levels. Therefore, the EPA could not document any occurrence of a “release,” such as runoff from the mine pits.

    In other words, the mine sites may contain hazardous substances, but those substances do not appear to be escaping in amounts that would cause serious human health or ecological effects.”

  11. Since when do you guys care when there is money to be made in putting this poison underground. Edgemont has the train tracks and getting the nukes there would be easy beams.

  12. Robert McTaggart

    To be frank, jerry, I’m not making any money one way or the other :^).

    We are talking about deep borehole disposal, so you need the correct geology and hydrology to make that happen…that is why Edgemont is not a good candidate for that.

    If you want to talk about a temporary above-surface location with dry casks made of concrete and steel which could be moved somewhere else when needed by train, that could certainly be contemplated.

  13. Porter Lansing

    Hey, Doc McT … Let us know in CO if you guys are building an above-surface spent energy depository (a great idea, by the way). We have a 175 acre, shut down nuclear bomb trigger factory between Boulder and Golden. The site is contaminated with residual plutonium due to several industrial fires that occurred on the site and other inadvertent releases caused by wind at a waste storage area. The other major contaminant is carbon tetrachloride . Both of these substances affected areas adjacent to the site. In addition, there were small releases of beryllium and tritium, as well as dioxin from incineration. The Rocky Flats owner (Rockwell) was only required to clean up down to three feet. We could ship a few thousand train cars of dirty soil up your way. Just Kidding.

  14. Robert McTaggart


    Early nuclear weapons development meant getting the bomb first regardless of the costs, and as you note there were costs.

    Remediation of the nuclear weapons sites is important. For instance, there is interest in different kinds of plants and algae and bacteria that will uptake the heavy metals so they can be removed more efficiently.

    Smoke and fire are unfortunately terrific mechanisms for the dispersal of radionuclides. In principle this is why Chernobyl was so bad…the power plant was moderated by graphite instead of water, and water doesn’t burn.

    There is a field called “fire protection engineering” that attempts to limit pathways for fire development. It covers everything from modeling how fires burn, to preventing ignition in the first place, to making new materials that are more difficult to burn, to building better detectors.

  15. Robert McTaggart

    Siting a temporary above-ground storage facility still requires certain site characteristics, so it is not like it can go anywhere. Those include being away from earthquake or flooding zones, good transportation (by rail or truck to the site), promixity to the sources of waste, workforce needs, etc.

    Currently the power plants themselves act as temporary spent fuel repositories, including those that are shutdown. So there is some knowledge and expertise to build upon in this regard.

  16. Porter Lansing

    I can see that, Doc. The spent fuel is ok where it is and will only be moved if a very safe, very end-of-the-line site is available. That’s why the risk to West River is so minimal and here’s a story about the future rewards.
    When I’d only owned a couple companies (age 11) a very wise businessman from church advised me, “Find something that nobody wants to do and do it so well that by the time anyone sees how much money you’re making, you’ll be so far ahead that you’ll not be challenged.” That’s the opportunity South Dakota is presented with, if the borehole provides the right bedrock. No state wants a spent fuel depository which only means SoDak can charge a thousand times more than what it’s worth. From then on, it a vanilla river all the way to the next century.

  17. Robert McTaggart

    Nobody wants to be a garbage man, until they find out how well garbage men get paid and they understand the value of the service they provide.

  18. Robert McTaggart

    In that same sense, RESPEC (a SD company) has an opportunity to be a world leader in deep borehole drilling.

  19. Porter Lansing

    And, if you’re building a dump, make it the biggest, baddest dump on Earth.? If SD doesn’t jump on this, CO probably will. We have a history of low risk/high reward successes. Example: Years ago, when no state wanted it , CO built a prison for the nastiest, most violent humans alive. Ironically, it’s underground, also. Which would be worse for people? Some nuclear material escaping or a dozen murderous Taliban from Guantanamo, housed at SuperMax? The feds paid a thousand times the going rate to build their state of the art prison here and a hole in the ground would be just as lucrative.

  20. Donald Pay

    Being for or against nuclear waste isn’t really the only issue. If you don’t want to be responsible for the waste, don’t make the waste. It’s a very simple idea we all are taught by our mothers: clean up after yourself.

    The wastes should stay exactly where they were produced. Don’t put them on someone else’s land. They need to deal with the problem. Clean up after yourself.

  21. Donald Pay

    Colorado doesn’t want this waste. They had to deal with Rocky Flats. I remember talking to the women who organized the effort to get that thing stopped and cleaned up when we were dealing with Chem-Nuclear back in the early 80s.

    South Dakotans in general sees through these sorts of scams. We got burned a few times because our leaders fell for them. Put it to a statewide vote and let the people decide it.

  22. Porter Lansing

    It’s not a given that CO wouldn’t vote for a spent energy depository. There’s a third of this state that’re crazy, Republican fracking addicts (like NoDak). As Doc says, it would have to be a highly safety oriented process, top to bottom. One thing for damn sure, if the people voted it down the Governor wouldn’t allow it and if the people voted for it, the Governor would sign it. Daugaard is becoming rather dictatorial and the voters need to stand up to his happy ass.

  23. Robert McTaggart

    “If you don’t want to be responsible for the waste, don’t make the waste.”

    –Everything you do produces waste. So what you are saying here really is don’t do anything….since that is the only way no waste is ever produced.

    “The wastes should stay exactly where they were produced.”

    –So the consumer of the energy produced bears no responsibility?
    Should we also put waste in locations that are not optimal? Wouldn’t unsafe storage impact a lot of other people? How about not doing nuclear and burning coal instead….wouldn’t those wastes impact clean air and clean water?

  24. Robert McTaggart

    In generating the same amount of energy, the waste from nuclear is much less than any other energy source. Yes, it is radioactive and generates its own heat, and it has a unique chemistry, but instead of just dumping it in the trash we engineer methods of disposal that account for that.

    If we were to do it right, we would recycle a lot of the valuable elements in there for energy and other applications prior to any disposal effort.