Governor, DENR, Philip, Midland Support Deep Borehole Field Test

As KOTA-TV reported on December 1, Governor Dennis Daugaard continues to support bringing the U.S. Department of Energy’s Deep Borehole Field Test to South Dakota as an extension of our recent tradition of underground scientific research as practiced at the Homestake/Sanford lab in Lead.

Karl Herchenroeder of RadWaste Monitor (subscription required) reports that our Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the towns of Philip and Midland are formally advocating for bringing the big nuclear-waste-disposal engineering experiment to Haakon County:

Respec CEO Todd Kenner said in a telephone interview Tuesday that the company has secured letters of support from Gov. Dennis Daugaard, the city of Philip, the town of Midland, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and a handful of major businesses in Haakon County. The company has partnered with the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, and representatives were set to meet with the Haakon County Commission on Tuesday [Karl Herchenroeder, “Company Explores South Dakota Site for DOE Borehole Project,” RadWaste Monitor, 2016.12.09].

DENR issued guidance on permits and regulations relevant to the Borehole proposal in October. A statement from a regulatory agency in support of a project requiring certain permits seems a little thumb-y on the scale. I’ll check with DENR and see if they can provide a copy of their “support” for drilling one or two three-mile-deep holes in Haakon County.

Of course, Borehole discussion may become moot if Rick Perry really becomes Energy Secretary and he remembers that he wants to eliminate that department.

Update 09:00 CST: Here’s the DENR’s (more specifically, the DENR Geological Survey Program’s) letter of support for the Borehole, sent to Respec on October 18. State geologist Derric L. Iles says the Borehole “would provide unprecedented information on the deep Precambrian-age rocks” under Haakon County. Iles says the data retrieved from three miles deep “could possibly be used in mineral exploration and development of geothermal reserves.”

DENR is a staunch proponent of using the best scientific research and facts available to shape environmental and natural resource management decisions. As is the case with any significant research, there are commonly unforeseen uses of information gathered and discoveries made. I suspect the same will be true with the Deep Borehole Field Test and that information will be put to immediate use in the scientific community and will ultimately be applied for societal benefit. DENR’s Geological Survey Program stands with your team of scientists and other professionals in support of the proposal [Derric L. Iles, state geologist; letter to Todd Kenner, CEO of Respec; on behalf of DENR Geological Survey Program, Vermillion, SD, 2016.10.18].

54 Responses to Governor, DENR, Philip, Midland Support Deep Borehole Field Test

  1. Donald Pay

    That how things work in South Dakota. Government officials give their support without mentioning to their subjects anything about what they are doing, let alone providing them any opportunity to influence the decision. They don’t even ask for the proposal submitted to the Department of Energy to find out what’s actually in it. It’s all done hush, hush, based on little more than a wink and a nod, and, of course, the federal Department of Energy will spin secret agreement into “consent,” not just for the “test” but for disposal of radioactive waste. That kind of governance how you end up with scandals and murder-suicides. Nothing ever changes in South Dakota.

    Derric Iles is a stand-up guy. He testified honestly in some very contentious state hearings a couple decades ago, so I respect him very much. But I don’t think it is appropriate for the state geologic survey to put their thumb on the scale. He should have, at least, made the details of the project known and provided opportunity for comment to state citizens

  2. Porter Lansing

    CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) is a former method of emergency broadcasting to the public of the United States in the event of enemy attack during the Cold War. It was intended to allow continuous broadcast of civil defense information to the public using radio or TV stations, while rapidly switching the transmitter stations to make the broadcasts unsuitable for Soviet bombers that might attempt to home in on the signals (as was done during World War II, when German radio stations, based in or near cities, were used as beacons by pilots of bombers).
    NOTICE: THIS IS ONLY A TEST (this ex-pat is hoping the rocks down there rock to the proper specs)

  3. Why doesn’t the Gov. first pass a Bill that would NOT allow Nuclear Waste to come to SD in the future? SD had a Referendum after the Edgemont, SD Low Level waste was put to rest by a vote of the people. Why did our Legislature repeal it? The people of Haakon County that have NOT been heard, need to speak up and voice their opposition to this Project. Is it Consent Based when DOE has been invited to do this research? If it goes through, has the door been opened for Nuclear Waste in the future.

  4. Robert McTaggart

    To clarify, “the big nuclear-waste-disposal engineering experiment ” is more accurately described as a deep borehole drilling experiment that would benefit the future storage of some nuclear wastes (not all of them).

    So the disposal of some nuclear wastes would definitely benefit down the road, but they are not proposing any experiment with any nuclear material in the deep borehole field test.

  5. Robert McTaggart

    The governor’s interests in supporting the field test is not a secret. The process for consent regarding an actual waste disposal site is going to be a lot more involved.

    Remember, Donald provided a link to a DOE document that stated that very fact. He has not provided a link stating that consent for a test site automatically means consent for actual disposal.

    Opponents of anything nuclear should want the research to be done for two reasons. First, if it fails, then there will be a lot of data that is generated to support that conclusion. Second, if it succeeds, then we will be one step closer to the safe isolation of some of our nuclear wastes that are on the surface today.

    “DENR is a staunch proponent of using the best scientific research and facts available to shape environmental and natural resource management decisions.”….There goes that rogue DENR agency once again…

  6. Donald Pay

    Unlike Doc McT, I’ve read much of the groundwork done by DOE on how they view using these sort of “tests” and “research projects” to sell nuclear waste dumps. These “studies” are just Phase I, and they fully intend to use them to hoodwink folks into a nuclear dump.

    DOE has studied how the process works in various European countries, particularly Sweden. DOE talks about “consent-based siting.” Nice sounding words, but there is no such thing.

    Here is how it works: First, use “scientists” and “research” as a way to weasel their way into communities. Deny any intent on building a waste disposal facility. Dangle some nice sounding but empty phrases, like “consent-based siting” that they say will give people the power to say no. “Consent-based siting” isn’t even a legally existing process. It’s just empty words. Look it up in federal statute. You won’t find it.

    Next, get a few government officials and bureaucrats to vouch for your program. This is really all the consent they need. The voters and the public don’t matter at the beginning, and, really, they won’t be consulted in an honest way throughout the “consent-based siting process,” because the concept doesn’t exist as a legal process.

    Next, spread money around, like meth, and pretty soon you’ve got people thinking they need just one more government dollar to make them feel good about themselves. Pretty soon the whole community is hooked on the government money.

    Next, a few years down the road, tell the folks you are going to have to investigate the site further, and that a few more dollars will be directed your way. And, man, it feels good, doesn’t it, to be patted on the head and given a few more greenbacks?

    By this time, maybe, you’ve forgotten about them telling you about needing your consent. But maybe you haven’t. But whatever the case is, there is no such thing as “consent-based siting,” so it really comes down to this: “consent-based siting” is whatever the government tells you it is, and they may tell you this: “You gave your consent when you let us spend all that money to drill the first goddam hole. Now, shut the hell up, ’cause we’re stickin’ you with a nuclear waste dump.”

    Think that won’t happen? Ask people in South Carolina, Washington and Idaho. And that’s what the Yucca Mountain, Nevada, fight is about. That’s what happened, and is currently happening to them, right this very day. And it is about to happen to you. Don’t you feel good!

    So, let them drill if you want, but when they stick you with the nuclear waste, don’t say you weren’t warned. You have no excuses.

  7. J, you are correct! Why not have an initiative put on the ballot for state wide voting? The will of the people or the Will’s of the people they will have to draw up while in the cancer ward.

  8. Irrational fears of The Borehole are just people who are not as educated about things or as much #4Science as some of the the rest of us and the real scientists who know. I, for one, am a big fan of The Borehole and think it will bring much economic prosperity to Philip, the town that won’t sell the horses.

  9. WWSPD? What would Scotty Philip do?

  10. I note that geologist Iles is absolutely silent on the question of whether the Borehole would bring nuclear waste to South Dakota, in contradiction to every public statement made in the bid and by the bidders and DOE. He simply says the obvious: digging one or two three-mile-deep holes would provide all sorts of interesting and potentially useful geological data. How could the state geologist say anything other than “Yes, please!” to this project?

    It would be interesting to hear opinions from other state officials with different bailiwicks than rocks.

  11. “Opponents of anything nuclear should want the research to be done for two reasons. First, if it fails, then there will be a lot of data that is generated to support that conclusion. Second, if it succeeds, then we will be one step closer to the safe isolation of some of our nuclear wastes that are on the surface today.”

    Anyone with scientific acumen aught to be alarmed at the above statement. The assumption made above assumes that a single experiment will answer all of the questions about nuclear waste disposal with absolute certainty! It can’t and it won’t. Every scientific experiment reveals more questions than it answers and this one is no different. There are enormous temporal and spatial variables left out of this theorizing and as Don Pay has pointed out, “Next, a few years down the road, tell the folks you are going to have to investigate the site further, and that a few more dollars will be directed your way. And, man, it feels good, doesn’t it, to be patted on the head and given a few more greenbacks?”

    In order for any research to produce statistically reliable information that provides assurances that nuclear waste buried miles deep in the earth won’t eventually contaminate water, escape confinement to cause human and environmental health issues, or create seismic issues, will require multiple studies, field tests and decades of additional investigation. Meanwhile, we’ll be subjected to nuclear waste transportation and above ground storage issues and government sponsorship that throws good money after bad.

    Lastly, precisely why do we need “all sorts of interesting and potentially useful” information”? This is nothing more than science being conducted for the sake of science and when we reach the point where conduct of science does not produce facts for which there is practical and managerial application, we’re just flushing money and good sense down the drain. As Mr. Pay has noted, there is plenty of collateral references to this project from which accurate inferences can be drawn without reinventing the wheel.

  12. Good one John W. Now brace yourself for doc and his ridicule 5..4..3..

  13. Robert McTaggart

    Hi John…and Jerry…and Donald…Merry Christmas to one and all…

    Who said that one experiment would provide all the answers? But you do need to have a first experiment in order to build the statistics required for an informed decision.

    You forget that nuclear isotopes are still isotopes, and are subject to the laws of chemistry. You can study if anything travels using non-radioactive isotopes of about the same mass and similar chemistry.

    They must have the transportation issues figured out to get any nuclear material to a disposal facility, and they need to understand all of the human factors, mechanical and electrical safety for the drilling, and radiological safety at the surface for workers on the project.

    So there is a lot to do without using any nuclear material, but would still require the mechanics of drilling.

  14. Robert McTaggart

    And I still haven’t heard of any solution for our nuclear waste if these approaches are not studied.

    So what if it actually turns out to be safe? Have you even considered that possibility?

    The larger problem faced by commercial wastes is that we should be extracting all of the plutonium, thorium, or uranium out of the spent nuclear fuel and consuming it for electricity to get rid of it once and for all. Or we should be building the advanced reactors that does that automatically.

    There will still be radioactive waste, but it will be much smaller and only need isolation for a couple of hundred years, not a couple of hundred thousand years.

    But I guess we would rather burn a lot of coal and methane instead to make up for solar and wind.

  15. Robert McTaggart

    With regard to the issue of voting and consent, if it is for an actual nuclear waste repository, I have no problem with a state-wide vote. Perhaps if everyone can agree upon that, then a non-nuclear drilling project can proceed.

    For a drilling project that involves no nuclear waste, the precedent has already been set that we do not have a vote for every oil and gas project. And there was no vote in Spink County either. Apparently representation at the local/county level was enough.

  16. The mayors of Philip and Midland have embraced the comrade rational right along with the electoral voting big kahuna comrade, Daugaard. They want that borehole so the nuke waste from Mother Russia will be as welcome there as it can be. Punch a whole lot of holes there and we can bury many metric tones of poison. The Philip Midland area will be now known for its sister cities name of Chernobyl. Nyet is not an option to Vlad or his other meme’s.

  17. mike from iowa

    Doc-you seem to have a lot of faith in a political party that sees scientists and sciency stuff as gossip. One wingnut in Drumpf’s transition team compared climate change to the earth being flat.

  18. mike from iowa

    If Daugaard supports this project, I’m guessing there is money involved for him somehow.

  19. Robert McTaggart

    Hmmm…isolate the “poison” for millions of years underground away from the biosphere, or leave at the surface where it could eventually leak and get into water supplies, or worse yet…become fuel for a dirty bomb or a target of an attack. Which would you choose Jerry?

  20. Robert McTaggart


    I do not think South Dakota would consider ever becoming a host for a nuclear waste repository pro bono or out of the goodness of their heart…if that is what you mean. They would be tackling something that no other state so far has been willing to do. Maybe instead of being paid into the general fund that most of the monies are distributed to the people, much like Alaska does with oil-related revenue. Not sure if that would satisfy folks like Donald and Jerry though.

    Science shows that climate change is happening and that man has a role in it. You may want to check out this nearby planet called Venus that has a runaway greenhouse effect and a whole bunch of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere.

    But if science shows that the process of isolating nuclear waste is safe, then that doesn’t mean you stop questioning it or monitoring it, but it should be allowed to proceed (at least make it up to a vote).

  21. I say leave it and don’t add to it. We have already been attacked doc and it looks like the Russians and their supporters are winning! The dirty bomb was the theft of a Democracy by tossing a phishing bomb. Don’t worry doc, here in South Dakota you will not hear a word about it from the press. They are to busy reporting that Fluffy the cat got stranded up a tree again, to be so bold as to tell the truth about the takeover.

  22. Robert McTaggart

    It is unclear to me whether Hillary would have won if nothing was released, but I grant you that it didn’t make things easier for her either. Neither candidate really did press conferences, so that was a wash.

  23. Of course doc, it is never clear when someone gets 3 million more votes than the other guy, Pretty cloudy indeed.

  24. mike from iowa

    Maybe instead of being paid into the general fund that most of the monies are distributed to the people, much like Alaska does with oil-related revenue.

    Behind the times a bit, Doc. Alaska is paying Exxon and other awl companies a hefty price for every barrel of Alaskan citizen’s awl is produced. The PDF is virtually a thing of the past.

    If you had more time, I’d suggest you read up on how wingnuts essential gave oil to oil companies that cried poverty and the citizens are paying for it.

  25. Robert McTaggart

    Jerry, she won California. The thing is set up as 50 contests, some weighted more than others.

    That’s like losing a 9 inning ball game, stating you had more hits in the game, and really deserved to win as a result. Even though the rules say you only win if you get more runs than the other opponent, and you knew the rules in advance.

  26. I understand the rules. Just like the 1919 World Series. The White Sox got hacked by big interests. The very thing happened here. We all know it as well, at least everyone except for a few like yourself doc. Say it ain’t so, Joe?

  27. Robert McTaggart

    Good point Mike, but Donald seems to be afraid of all of the money not being used wisely, so I took a stab at addressing that. This would be on top of the expenses of such a facility and its regulatory oversight.

  28. Robert McTaggart

    And she didn’t know there were big interests? And she still didn’t try too hard to flip a red state?

  29. mike from iowa

    The winning? team, in this instance, were getting their hits in before the actual game started, the umpires were well aware that one team cheated and allowed the game to go ahead anyway, even though the results are tainted. Then the apologists for the cheaters tell the fans to forget the cheating and congratulate the cheaters.
    Not how the game works. But then wingnuts have never played by the rules. Oh and the Benghazi witch hunt is officially over after 8 committees and over 8 million bucks wasted- wingnuts didn’t really care about the four bodies HRC was accused of killing herownself.
    Wingnut congressweasel Collins says investigations-like the ones Dems want into hackings lead nowhere.Says we know all there is to know so embrace Drumpf-like wingnuts did with the Black feller 8 long ages ago.

  30. Robert McTaggart

    Technically the game never ends these days Mike. We just move from one election to another. Noem is running for governor, and Biden is keeping his options open for 2020.

  31. Trump has promised to get rid of the DOE. So, he is sending Rick Perry in to dismantle it.

    If this President lives up to his promise, very soon here, this borehole project will have no funding as it will be yanked and given to the mega wealthy in the form of tax breaks.

    If they are able to start this project, there is NO certainty that they will even get half way through it.

  32. If Bidden is the go to guy, then 4 more years of Trump. Bernie would be much better.

  33. Robert McTaggart

    Not sure about getting rid of DOE, because they oversee nuclear materials/nuclear weapons issues. But Trump could certainly change its mission.

    Perry did oversee a large expansion of wind energy in the state of Texas, so he is not completely anti-renewable, but I would imagine there would be more work on oil/gas and clean coal. We’ll see about nuclear energy.

  34. Donald Pay

    Most (75 percent) of DOE’s budget involves nuclear weapons and nuclear waste from nuclear weapons. That part of DOE isn’t going away anytime, unfortunately. If Trump wants to eliminate the DOE he will just be shifting DOE’s budget to another agency. I guess Rounds and Perry didn’t understand that, so, I expect we’ll hear another “OOOPS” soon.

    The question is where will he shift the nuclear weapons/nuclear waste programs? It is unlikely they will go to the Department of Defense. There is an understanding that the most potent of our weaponry should be strictly under civilian control, and the DOE assures that. So, will he just clone another agency, call it something else and say he eliminated the Department of Energy? Dumb. It costs money to muck around in stupid efforts that have no value.

    Trump has started going after the the Department of Energy’s National Labs, and science in general. These are the labs that came up with the deep borehole disposal option for defense radioactive wastes. He’s asked for names for folks involved in research on climate research only, so apparently he doesn’t care about the real crackpot ideas, like boreholes. Obama transition team is not going to give him any names. I guess the Trump team has now backed down from this attempt at scientific McCarthyism, but there are likely to be cuts, and boreholes could be one area that gets axed. We can only hope that the conservatives in Congress who thought boreholes was a cuckoo idea of Obama and Moniz will prevail.

    There are former National Lab scientists who think the National Labs have lost their way and are spending money of wiz-bang stuff rather than real science. Not sure what I think of their efforts to scale back the National Labs. I do know that the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board seems concerned about losing funding, and have cancelled their spring meeting. The NWTRB is the only entity that peer-reviews and critiques a lot of DOE’s science on radioactive waste. They have been rather negative on boreholes.

    There actually are folks in New Mexico (some former government scientists) who do think the National Labs are out of control in their spending. SD’s very own Heather Wilson was paid quite a lot to lobby on behalf of a contractor who

  35. Increasingly, rural conservatives are failing to value science outside of what it takes to grow plants in the ground under the sun.

    Republicans are going to use a machete on our National Labs, not a scalpel. They will not look at each study on a case by case basis. “Government is just too big” – they unendingly drone on and cry like children.

    Trump cutting science research funding does the rural’s bidding. South Dakota loves it.

  36. Robert McTaggart

    The biggest plus for big science is that new ideas are not born out of doing the same thing over and over again, they come out of finding solutions to investigating the scientific frontier. The unintentional benefits cannot be planned, but if you don’t pursue the science they will not happen.

    The web browser as we know it today can thank much of its development to particle physics research…they generated billions and trillions of events, and needed to share files and post pictures for analysis. If they were to say to funding agencies “We’re building this accelerator to generate something called a web browser that everybody will use one day”, they never would have been funded.

    Even a graduate student pursuing a thesis in an arcane area of particle physics may apply his/her analytical toolkit in finance, which would have been completely unanticipated at the initiation of his/her studies.

  37. mike from iowa

    Doc you are an endangered species starting Jan 20, 2017. The really. like smart guy won’t need any science to prove he is a total fraud and disaster for America and you and your kind won’t be needed anymore.

    If it makes you feel better, you were good while you lasted.

  38. Robert McTaggart

    I think the three big issues that need tackling are energy storage, carbon capture, and resolving nuclear waste issues.

    The first will benefit solar and wind in particular, even if no new breakthroughs are forthcoming in those technologies. But it will also allow transportation to be electrified. The second will help fossil fuels, but moreover it will allow us to regulate carbon levels if necessary. The third is needed to meet outstanding promises and to facilitate the amount of energy the world will demand.

  39. mike from iowa

    Wingnuts do need help explaining how cutting korporate taxes from 35% to 20% and cutting taxes on overseas profits to zero is going to add up to more revenues for the government. Maybe the third trickle down experience will be the charm that makes debt disappear.

  40. Robert McTaggart

    We’ll see what happens Mike. Too soon to tell. We’ll see if they roll back the gas mileage mileposts for cars and trucks, or if they continue those because they eliminate waste and enhance energy independence.

  41. Robert McTaggart

    I would almost cut rates to home-grown competitors of those that keep profits overseas. If they don’t bring their monies back, then their competitors get the tax relief on a certain date.

    Then those other companies will lose market share AND have to pay the higher rate to repatriate any assets.

  42. Maybe once Trickle Down Trump once again proves that tax cuts do not generate tax revenue – maybe then we can ram it up their arse hard enough this time.

  43. Robert McTaggart

    McConnell may say show me the debt reduction first, and Trump may say we need the tax relief and infrastructure spending to generate the growth to reduce the debt. Should be interesting.

  44. Doc: The temporal variability in any of this will always shackle the probabilities that the borehole is completely safe to store nuclear waste. The geology may seem like a dependable constant and it may very well be; until we start drilling holes in it and alter the structure and composition. We can repetitive sample until the cows come home and the variability remains for a lot longer than politicians and government have time and money. When push comes to shove, the people supporting this project are going to pressure for answers and “permission” and even bad news is going to have a smiley face put on it. What guarantees are there that fissures, cracks and even subterranean seismic activity will not compromise some portion of that bore hole and allow either leakage of nuclear material or water from aquifers to mix in manners not hereto for discovered. The oil and gas industry has been telling us for decades that fracking is perfectly safe and no harm will come to drinking water. People in PA and Wyoming are learning only recently that that assurance was just twisted science. Science is fine until industry and politicians get in the middle of it and then the trustworthiness and credibility of it go right out the window. Water quality monitoring is science and look what we do with that.

  45. We were told by a DOE person, at one of the Spink meetings, that they know these canisters will leak at some point. They think the water above the rock layer is so saline (salty), and dense that any leakage would be contained by it. Where they get these ideas, since they have never been down there, or drilled this deep before just baffles me. How can DOE make these kinds of statements? Money, Money, MONEY!!!!!

  46. Robert McTaggart

    John W,

    To be honest, no amount of study will be good enough for some borehole opponents. Part of that is the failure of our politics over the past couple of decades.

    I don’t think that the waste forms are in glass ceramic form that they talk about for spent commercial fuel. That is an extra step that they could conceivably take, but it would be quite expensive to do. There could be something (gel, plastic, etc.) that could fill in the spaces and immobilize the isotopes while keeping water out. You could repackage the waste in upgraded containers, but that would also be expensive. Adding in other barriers is simpler and may in fact work better.

    Most of this military waste is Cs-137 and Sr-90, which have half-lives of roughly 30 years. So the question is really whether any appreciable amount will get into drinking water within say 10 half-lives. By that time even if anything leaks it won’t do any radiological harm due to the dissipation of said isotopes by radioactive decay.

    If I am planning for the disposal I do not count on containers maintaining their integrity forever. That’s where the seals and other barriers in the borehole come into play. That is where the geology/hydrology come into play. That’s why they need to do the study.

  47. Robert McTaggart


    The WIPP repository in New Mexico was chosen because of its salts. Long-term, the salts should encase the waste containers and seal them off permanently. The salts themselves present a barrier to the diffusion of anything that may escape the primary containers.

  48. Daugaard had REGENTS hire Heather as SDSM&T president so she would snare the borehole project in SD and pursue any other uses of deep shale beds. Mayor Art LaCriox had a rock solid commitment from SDSM&T to partner in the Journey. Heather pulled out. Woman of many talents.

  49. Robert McTaggart

    Did she take the national security gig?

  50. (Sure, Robert, get me off topic. Heather Wilson has gotten almost no attention in the national press for the DNI discussion. Two weeks ago, the press said DNi was down to Dan Coats, Frances Townsend, and Michael Rogers. Fiorina and Wilson seemed to come out of nowhere. Wilson at least had some intel experience in the U.S. House. Fiorina has zero experience in this area.)

  51. Robert McTaggart

    Should we be asking which one wants to get rid of intelligence altogether, which one is the real outsider, or which one is the best suited for the position?

  52. Robert, you and I would focus on the last criterion. Trump will focus on a shade of the first, something like his NASA policy of not looking at the things that we don’t want to know about.

  53. Darin Larson

    Mike, Rick Perry is well qualified to be energy secretary; he can see a refinery from his house.