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North Dakota County Nixes Borehole Nuclear Waste Disposal Test—South Dakota Next?

Mr. Pay alerts us to the sinking of the borehole nuclear waste disposal test project in North Dakota and the possibility that South Dakota might get a second look for hosting this engineering endeavor.

In January, the feds chose Rugby, North Dakota, as the site of their five-year, $35-million project to test the feasibility of drilling a 16,000-foot-deep hole and burying nuclear waste at the bottom.

Deep Borehole Injection—Sandia National Labs
Deep borehole waste disposal: drop canisters of nuclear waste down between 10,000 and 16,000 feet below the surface, encase them in bentonite, pile asphalt and concrete on top so nothing gets in or out. Source: Sandia National Lab.

Rugby is about an hour east of Minot on the Amtrak Empire Builder and 45 miles south of the Canadian border. The town bills itself as the geographical center of North America, though that place is actually 16 miles southwest of town.

When the Pierce County Commission held a public information session on the project in February, about 300 people showed up to ask about the engineering, the economic and environmental impacts, and, perhaps most importantly, the possibility that, once drilled, the borehole would become an actual nuclear waste dump. A neighboring county commissioner said many folks in the area believe if the test succeeded, the feds wouldn’t let a big usable hole go to waste (maybe I should rephrase that?) and Rugby would indeed become a nuclear waste dump. After receiving a petition with 2,000 signatures opposing the project, the Pierce County Commission voted March 8 not to allow the borehole in their turf.

So where do the feds turn now? As Mr. Pay helped report last October, South Dakota was one of three good borehole locations listed in a 2014 paper prepared by Sandia National Laboratories for the U.S. Department of Energy. An article in Science yesterday says Ohio-based nonprofit research firm Battelle Memorial Institute still wants to start drilling somewhere this year. Says Science, “Programs in Texas, South Dakota, and South Carolina had submitted bids before North Dakota was initially chosen, an EERC official told the audience in Pierce County.”

Even if you don’t like nuclear power, we’ve got seventy years’ worth of nuclear waste sitting around and no permanent place in the U.S. to put it. Rugby said no to testing one disposal method; should South Dakota follow their lead?


  1. Paul Seamans 2016-03-24 07:51

    “Programs in South Dakota have submitted bids”…

    Do we know who in South Dakota submitted the bid?

  2. jake 2016-03-24 08:54

    So Dak is definitely on the radar screen for this with Heather Wilson as head of So Dak School of Mines! Not to matter, of course, our past problems with uranium mines in the Edgemont area and northwest corner of the state. When it comes to potential of more Federal money to swell the South Dakota gov’t ‘tit’ she’ll be pushed to ambitiously support such a bore-hole.

  3. leslie 2016-03-24 09:29

    apparently they may be trying to get afap before talking about the project

  4. Donald Pay 2016-03-24 10:02

    Paul Seamans asks the relevant next question: “Do we know who in South Dakota submitted the bid?”

    No. In fact the Science article paraphrasing a North Dakota official is the first confirmation that someone in South Dakota submitted a bid to the Department of Energy. Nothing about the DOE bid submission process has been open and honest, but there is plenty of evidence pointing to SDSM&T, RESPEC and the SD Science and Technology Authority. That Daugaard would not have had first-hand knowledge and given approval would have been unthinkable, except, apparently in North Dakota they tried to backdoor the project behind the Governor’s back.

    Another question that I have is what happens now to the Department of Energy bidding process. Does DOE re-start the bidding process, this time being open and honest, or do they continue their slimy behind the scenes efforts to stick this project in whatever corner of the universe is desperate enough to be bought off for a few trickle down dollars? They thought they had some suckers up in North Dakota. They found out upper Midwest folk aren’t quite the rubes they assumed we were. Do they think that by shifting the project south a few hundred miles, they will find the “gullible rubes” in official circles they have been prospecting for?

  5. mike from iowa 2016-03-24 10:04

    As was also discussed last October in DFP- We’ve seen evidence that Governor Dennis Daugaard supports bringing nuclear waste to South Dakota. Sandia National Labs has a well-placed friend here in South Dakota, their former consultant Heather Wilson, who is now president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, whose geology experts would play a key role in advising the state in inviting such a project to our bedrock.

  6. Mark Winegar 2016-03-24 19:25

    Personally I’m skeptical of any project like this taking place in South Dakota and of any claims of safety advocates may make. If elected I will vote ‘no’ unless there is overwhelming independent testimony in favor of it from qualified scientists and overwhelming support for it from the citizenry.

  7. daleb 2016-03-24 20:24

    South Dakota seems to like bad ideas.

    As of now it is illegal to transport high level radioactive waste. But SDSoM’s has been studying storing high level radioactive waste in shale for a while now. As of now there is no need to store high level radioactive spent fuel rods in shale. There is plenty of space left in their cooling ponds. So it really makes no sense to store low level waste in shale. Why drill a hole and spend some 2 million dollars just to put a few canisters in. Then the risk to public safety by transporting them on highways or via rail. This would really be a new low politicians are sinking to if they actually go though with this plan.

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