RESPEC Promise of No Nuclear Waste in Deep Borehole Field Test Meets Skepticism

The Philip Pioneer Review and Native Sun News report on the first big public meeting hosted in Philip February 7 by RESPEC (ah! REsearch SPECialists! Now I get it!) on the Deep Borehole Field Test. Over a hundred people heard the following:

RESPEC CEO Todd Kenner repeated that the Borehole will bring no nuclear waste to Haakon County:

There is no waste involved with this project. This site will never be used for storage or disposal. We will have a legal obligation to plug and abandon both those holes and restore the site [Todd Kenner, in Talli Nauman, “‘Deep Borehole’ Test in Lakota Territory Stirs ‘Deep Concern’,” Native Sun News, 2017.02.15].

Kenner says RESPEC as a firm supports House Bill 1071, which would subject any nuclear waste disposal (which the Borehole isn’t) to a vote of the Legislature. (HB 1071 has passed the House and awaits Senate State Affairs’ attention.)

Another RESPEC engineer says he wouldn’t be involved if the Borehole involved nuclear waste:

Jay Nopola, RESPEC staff engineer, said they are interested in the science objectives. “If this project involved nuclear waste, I wouldn’t be part of it. I’m here because I believe in it” [Nancy Haigh, “Groups Meet to Discuss Proposed Haakon County Borehole Project,” Philip Pioneer Review, 2017.02.15].

South Dakota Wheat president Julian Roseth owns the land where the boreholes would be drilled. He’s fine with the project:

Regarding noise pollution, most people will never hear anything other than the resident about one mile from the site and the landowner, Julian Roseth. Roseth noted many area residents operate grain dryers and he did not expect the noise to be worse than them [Haigh, 2017.02.15].

No words offered by project engineers will matter, since opponents of the project will invariably appeal to unrebuttable fears and hypotheticals:

Gregg Jankord, Chamberlain,… stated his concern is if they prove they can do a borehole successfully in South Dakota they could come back and use the location. Maybe not use that borehole, but drill another.

…While this administration, whether in Washington, D.C., or Pierre, may not want nuclear waste in South Dakota a future one could [Haigh, 2017.02.15].

…and blanket indictments of every word spoken:

…Jen Jones noted she does like Kenner and Nopola and others involved. “These guys are likable. I like talking to them,” she said. “I want you all to remember this is not REPEC’S project. It is the Department of Energy’s,” she said. “In my mind RESPEC is going to do what they have said. It will look good for them, the School of Mines, and South Dakota. This is the Department of Energy’s project…to solve Department of Energy’s storage disposal of nuclear waste” [Haigh, 2017.02.15].

…because no one trusts the federal government, especially not our Lakota neighbors:

Three-time elected Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Councilor Bryce In The Woods spoke at the meeting about the violation of the treaties as a reason for mistrusting the company’s promise to keep radioactive waste out of the picture.

“Once the School of Mines learns a lot of good things,” nuclear waste disposal will follow, he warned. “This is what they are going to do. You’re going to be looking at leaking out,” he said. “From the point of view of our treaties with the United States, they’ve broken all of them,” he told a standing-room-only crowd of at least 100 people assembled in Philip at the meeting that Respec billed as the first of a number [Nauman, 2017.02.15].

RESPEC will beat its head against more walls at tonight’s public meeting in Midland at Trinity Lutheran Church, starting at 5 p.m.

31 Responses to RESPEC Promise of No Nuclear Waste in Deep Borehole Field Test Meets Skepticism

  1. Robert McTaggart

    I support the research that RESPEC and SDSMT are proposing. I support measures that consider consent regarding storage of actual nuclear waste, as well as public education regarding nuclear issues.

    The borehole technique is being studied for defense wastes, largely Cesium-137 and Strontium-90, that has been separated out from the development of nuclear weapons. The articles are not clear about that. The studies are needed to show that such wastes can be stored safely and affordably (at least more so than other methods).

    In the near term, existing commercial wastes need to be removed from shut down nuclear power plants that are de facto storage facilities without any consent. It seems that locations in New Mexico or Texas seem to be working on that.

    But direct burial is not optimal. Eventually I hope that we recycle (reprocess) these wastes to reduce the volume and radioactivity of what is isolated, reduce the time of isolation, extract critical elements for medicine and renewable energy, generate more electricity, and reduce proliferation risks by consuming any fissile isotopes.

  2. Robert McTaggart

    I should also note that commercial wastes do not come in the same engineered capsules that the defense wastes do. They are not going to fit in what they are drilling. So forget about uranium and plutonium in a borehole, which people usually associate with nuclear waste.

    The best way to get rid of uranium and plutonium is to first consume them for electricity in a reactor. Anything else would literally be a waste of resources.

  3. mike from iowa

    Dang it, Doc. ’bout time you came back. I saw this and it almost has you written all over it. Plus it is off topic from a couple days ago.

  4. Robert McTaggart

    That is just awful Mike.

    Sort of like when someone wins a verdict against a meteorologist, and the judge says the winning party is entitled to condensation….

  5. Donald Pay

    The Department of Energy has no credibility on this issue. Quay County, NM, rescinded a previous resolution supporting the project. No one trusts the feds based on a long history of deceit on radioactive waste. They can say there is no disposal in this test, but there is no enforcement mechanism. Consent-based siting is not based in law. It’s public relations.

  6. Robert McTaggart

    Pardon the cynicism, but….

    So let’s not do recycling, and let’s not do anything with the nuclear waste that we have already produced, including that from nuclear weapons development. Let’s not even do the research that could solve the problem. Who really wants to be responsible anyway?

    Instead, let’s oppose anything nuclear altogether and burn some more fossil fuels to make up for intermittent renewables instead of building the new reactors that can load-follow better (like the molten salt reactors). The climate will be fine with the extra carbon we emit by replacing nuclear energy with a fossil fuel / renewable combo.

    And all of the anti-nuclear groups will certainly accept the carefree emission of naturally-occurring radionuclides from the fuel cycles of fossil fuels. Even though nuclear would emit far less into the environment and must account for them.

    Let’s not even worry about trying to develop a consent-based process that would work for everybody.

  7. Robert McTaggart

    Any disposal of nuclear waste has to be funded, so basically there is a de facto enforcement mechanism via the withholding of said funds in Congress.

    Nobody is going to drill a hole or transport nuclear waste here and there for free.

  8. Porter Lansing

    Please … someone in Midland ask the gorilla question, tonight. First, there were determinations made about where in USA the various test holes would be drilled. That means that some places looked more promising than other places. That also means that a “percentage of success” was given to each test hole site. Someone ask and don’t take backstroking for an answer, “What are the odds that this hole will be suitable?” As a former oil rig worker I can speculate the odds are pretty darned low. Pass House Bill 1071 then take the money and run. It’s only a “special research” project and Trump will probably quash it anyway.

  9. One more gorilla question. What about a failure like what happened in Wasta? Who will pay for contamination in underground water formations? To this date, the deep drillers in Wasta only have a pittance of the amount needed to fix that issue of the broken drills there, have we learned anything from that?

  10. Robert McTaggart

    The odds for drilling future holes for geothermal energy or carbon capture are probably higher.

  11. Robert McTaggart

    Questions and answers from the last borehole meeting (not the one this evening).

  12. Donald Pay

    Show me where Congress authorized spending specifically for the deep borehole disposal test. Show me where Congress authorized any money for wining and dining people in Haakon County. I’ve been looking for any line item, and can’t find one. As far as I can tell, Congress only authorized very general “research” and left the specifics of what research was to be funded up to the DOE. Thus, there may be some hidden authorization and funding for disposal as well. The fact is a lot of stuff gets funded without specific votes on specific projects, and that could happen with radioactive waste disposal.

  13. Robert McTaggart

    Gee, I wonder what happened to Yucca Mountain? That facility didn’t happen. There is your example.

    And of course, Senators and Representatives have no methods of objecting to or stalling legislation.

  14. Robert McTaggart

    Donald, you have Senators and Representatives in Wisconsin don’t you? Why haven’t you called them to propose the legislation you are advocating?

    Aren’t there locations in Wisconsin that are storing nuclear waste today? Don’t you want that waste moved out?

    (The University of Wisconsin has some very, very good programs in nuclear engineering, engineering physics, radiation safety, and medical physics…I’m a big fan of those!).

  15. Donald Pay

    All my reps are on board. I contact them regularly on waste matters.

  16. Robert McTaggart

    What are they doing to remove nuclear wastes from Wisconsin…particularly from shut-down nuclear plants?

  17. Robert McTaggart

    You see the problem….you may want wastes removed from your state, but you have to get another state to agree to accept them.

    Which means we need a consent-based process that actually works to address the waste issues at some point.

  18. Donald Pay

    Who said I wanted radioactive wastes removed from Wisconsin? In fact, just the opposite. Wisconsin was dumb enough to site several radioactive waste producing machines. The plants are already storing wastes on site. People have to understand that siting a nuclear power plant means you are perpetually responsible for those wastes. When they come to understand that, they will think twice and three times about siting nuclear power plants. But I also don’t want Illinois’ nuclear wastes to be dump here.

    When the Pathfinder Plant in South Dakota was decommissioned, I wasn’t the one who was promoting shipping that waste offsite. That was NSP. In fact a decade earlier it was our group who raised our hands and said we would accept a facility for Pathfinder waste and the small amount of waste from medical and other facilities in North and South Dakota. We also said we aren’t going to accept waste from anywhere else. NSP shipped the waste offsite for economic reasons, and because they didn’t want to have title to those wastes for generations.

  19. Robert McTaggart

    Interesting. And who ultimately pays for the storage in Wisconsin? Who would have paid for the on-going storage in South Dakota?

    Not the utilities…they would simply pass those costs along either to ratepayers or send the bill to the feds, which means the rest of us pay for that. If we are going to pay for it any way, then let’s consolidate it and reduce those costs.

    We should build the new reactors that address all of these concerns. Particularly when we will need a lot of energy, and the new ones can load-follow to help renewables without requiring storage. Consuming the waste reduces what needs to be mined and what must be isolated.

  20. Donald Pay

    Consolidation increases the risks, the complexity and the costs. Leave it where it is, at least for now.

    Who pays? The utilities need to pay, and the ratepayers. I’d split the cost. In some cases regulated utilities were smart, dumping these nuclear plants onto some dumb private companies. These private concerns are shell companies and will go bankrupt, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab. We should never build any more nuclear power plants.

  21. Robert McTaggart

    Donald, whatever costs you assign to the utilities will simply be passed along in one form or another to the ratepayer.

    We should build more nuclear plants, particularly if one is honestly interested in solving climate change and powering vehicles that run on electricity or fuel cells instead of gasoline. But if we are going to build new ones, then build the newer designs.

    Are you going to let someone build a wind turbine next to your home? Nobody wants to do that. Solar is better in that regard, but without nuclear we will burn natural gas to produce the energy that people actually use, not what you think they should be fine with.

  22. Robert McTaggart

    We can manage the issues with consolidated temporary storage. The only reason not to do that is to sustain the nuclear waste issues so that new nuclear would not be built.

    That is what this is really all about isn’t it? To force everyone into using solar and wind, and be fine with a lack of power and intermittency?

  23. Robert McTaggart

    What is truly wasteful about commercial nuclear waste is that more than 90% of the energy that can be extracted from the fuel still remains in what we are going to bury.

    I’d be happier if we recycled our wastes to recover most of that energy. But that means either building dedicated recycling facilities or the newer power plant designs.

    Heck, you could probably use some of that energy to recycle wastes from renewables without emitting carbon!

  24. Porter Lansing

    Take your retirement fund and buy stock in hydrogen refueling station technology. There’re a few a CO, a lot more in CA and the gov’t is or was kicking in subsidies. I’ll bet you’re an expert on hydrogen fuel cells, Doc. But, I’ll also bet you can discredit them in favor of new nuclear tech, huh? #grins

  25. Robert McTaggart


    You could use nuclear to provide the heat needed to separate out the hydrogen for the fuel cells. That is an energy intensive application that nuclear would be able to do.

    There are other battery concepts like flow batteries for cars that people are thinking about. You would replace the electrolyte at the pump instead of the gasoline. Then the electrolyte station would recharge it at another time….would virtually eliminate range anxiety.

  26. Porter Lansing

    Thanks, sir. I’ll not soon forget the Saturday afternoon when I was introduced to Nernst equation and electrochemical reversibility by Rob’t McTaggart. Let’s ALL get rich (again), folks. #MakeYourselfGreatAgain

  27. Robert McTaggart

    There’s a lot of physical chemistry and electrochemistry in those flow batteries! Those that use abundant elements in the periodic table will do better in terms of sustainability however. That probably goes for just about any battery…not just flow batteries.

  28. Donald Pay

    Regulated utilities can’t pass those costs on to ratepayers unless the regulators allow it. So, for example, the public utilities commissions can open a case that looks at what is the appropriate amount of costs that ratepayers should pay.

    My opinion is that ratepayers should pay about a fourth, utilities should pay about a fourth, the US government should pay about a fourth and the financial institutions who profited off of nuclear power should pay about a fourth. The government needs to pay because the entire nuclear power enterprise would never have occurred without federal subsidies. The financial institutions need to be involved because without them, the utilities could never have financed the nuclear power plant. For the most part ratepayers never have had any say over these waste disposal costs. That was a risk known by the utilities, the government and the financial institutions, and hidden from the ratepayers. Ratepayers did benefit from the electricity generated, so they should pay some.

  29. Robert McTaggart

    Don’t worry….it will be passed along to the ratepayers in some form…one way or the other. Because you cannot build another reactor that has a lower fuel cost and is available 24/7/365, you have to build more expensive and more inefficient forms of power. Ratepayers will pay more as a result.

    Don’t forget that ratepayers have been paying into a fund to pay for waste disposal all along. I think utilities sued and won their case…the feds didn’t come through with Yucca Mountain, so I don’t think utilities have been paying into that fund recently. But that money still exists and could be allocated to waste disposal efforts.

    There are basically three ways to reduce the radioactivity of nuclear waste. The first is to simply wait. That is what we are doing right now, but it takes the longest. The second is reprocessing, which would recover the uranium and plutonium in spent fuel and consume it in a reactor. At the moment this is more expensive in the near term, but likely more cost-effective over thousands of years of storage.

    This would also apply to the downblending of enriched uranium or plutonium found in nuclear weapons, of which we have already gotten rid of a lot via an exchange program with Russia that has not been renewed.

    The last is transmutation, where you convert long-lived isotopes into shorter-lived isotopes by means of an accelerator. This is inefficient today, and I would only consider it AFTER reprocessing has done its job.

  30. Robert McTaggart

    “Echols said estimates are there would be enough (nuclear waste) to fill at least nine Yucca Mountains by the end of the century.”….if we do not pursue recycling.

    If you follow pure economics, it is cheaper to use uranium fuel that has been directly mined and store the waste rather than recycle everything. But then again, how much more will it cost to build multiple Yucca Mountains? Just think how much more radioactivity would be dumped into the environment if instead we burned coal to make the same energy…

    The only real connection that recycling has with the current borehole studies being proposed is the success or failure of a consent-based process. Those granting the future consent for an actual deep borehole waste disposal facility deserve to have real data to judge the design of the technique they would approve, which is why these initial borehole studies are necessary.

  31. Well, before we work up a plan to just bury the waste and forget about it maybe we should come up with a plan to not produce more of it. Since the waste is such a contentious subject not making more would just make sense.
    I kinda like what France does with it. Put it in giant concrete containers on pillars so its obvious if they leak and place them in public places. That way the public can drive by them everyday and be reminded of what they are producing.
    BTW, Yucca mountain isn’t dead. Its my understanding that the facility has been full speed ahead but obviously not news worthy anymore. The only thing stopped is the transport and storage of the waste. Someone like Trumpy should be able to get that going.