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Battelle May Bring Borehole Project to Spink County, But No Nukes: Public Meetings April 27–28

Sure enough, the Deep Borehole Field Test could come to South Dakota. The Pierce County Commission gave the project the boot from North Dakota last month; now Ohio-based nonprofit research firm Battelle Memorial Institute says it is considering Spink County, the area discussed in my October 2015 post on the topic, as its new site for the Deep Borehole Field Test.

Counties included in Deep Borehole Field Test representative area in South Dakota: Faulk, Hand, Spink, Beadle, Clark, and Kingsbury. From Arnold et al./Sandia, September 2014, p. 11.
Counties included in Deep Borehole Field Test representative area in South Dakota: Faulk, Hand, Spink, Beadle, Clark, and Kingsbury. From Arnold et al./Sandia, September 2014, p. 11.

Battelle and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology will host two public meetings next week to discuss this engineering research. The first will be at the Hitchcock-Tulare High School in Tulare on Wednesday, April 27, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The second meeting will be at the Spink County 4-H building in Redfield on Thursday, April 28, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The DBFT is intended to test the feasibility of digging holes more than three miles deep to dispose of nuclear waste. However, Battelle says no nuclear waste will come to Spink County, even if they do punch a big deep hole into our bedrock, since the Dakota Aquifer is too darn close for regulatory comfort.

Here’s Battelle’s press release in full:

Battelle, South Dakota School of Mines to Hold Open House Meetings in Tulare and Redfield

SPINK COUNTY, South Dakota – Battelle and a team that features the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SD Mines) and Rapid City-based RESPEC is considering sites in Spink County, South Dakota for scientific experiments in crystalline granite rock formations as deep as 3.2 miles below ground.

A final decision has yet to be made on whether the rock formations in this area are suitable for this Deep Borehole Field Test (DBFT), but Battelle and SD Mines will hold at least two open house meetings in Spink County to answer questions from the local community about this research.

The DBFT would continue the theme of South Dakota’s long history of pioneering underground research, such as the work being done at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), in Lead, SD, that explores dark matter and the early origins of the universe. The SD Mines also continues its work on the state-funded Shale Research Initiative. Similar to the work in Lead, the DBFT is funded by the United States Department of Energy (DOE).

The Field Test is intended to increase scientific understanding of the potential uses for crystalline rock formations. This includes the potential for disposal of certain types of radioactive waste, but also includes the potential for geothermal energy development. It is important to note that no radioactive waste will be used in this project.

The project also benefits South Dakota and Spink County, where it is projected to have a five- year, $1 million local economic impact and $10 million in the state.

While the rock (the Benson Block) seems to be ideal for scientific study, it will not be considered as a potential disposal site for radioactive waste. Due to the proximity of subsurface water (the Dakota aquifer) in the area, nothing beyond geological research can be done as part of this project. Regulatory standards for nuclear waste disposal are extremely demanding, and due to the close proximity of water to the granite, this site is not expected to meet those performance standards. The DOE has no plans to use the field test site for the disposal of radioactive waste. Additionally, it would be performed on private land where the owners do not wish to host a waste disposal site.

If scientists from SD Mines and Battelle determine that Spink County is suitable for geological study, the DBFT would investigate the type of rocks, the chemistry of the water, the depths of these rocks and water and the temperature deep underground. It will also provide a unique opportunity to gather other deep local geologic data and may have follow-on potential for geothermal research.

The project could last as long as five years, with drilling of the characterization hole taking six to eight months. After drilling, a series of tests will be done inside of the borehole that will last approximately another six months. After these tests are studied, a second deep borehole could be drilled to conduct further testing of the engineering and scientific characteristics of deep boreholes. Neither of these tests will involve radioactive material.

Spink County is one of several sites around the country that are currently under consideration for this research.

Details on the planned open house meetings are included below.


Open house meetings to share information on the Deep Borehole Field Test, to be done by Battelle and the South Dakota School of Mines


Tulare High School gymnasium, 401 4th Street, Tulare, SD 57476
Spink County Fairgrounds 4-H building, 38497 174th St., Redfield, SD 57469


Representatives from South Dakota School of Mines, RESPEC, Schlumberger, Battelle and the U.S. Department of Energy


April 27 Tulare High School 6-9 p.m.
April 28 Spink County/Redfield 4H building 6-9 p.m.


  1. Paul Seamans 2016-04-21 17:53

    Well that certainly calms all my fears. My government would not lie to me.

  2. grudznick 2016-04-21 18:07

    Tulare should be honored. Many workers might eat there. And it says no radioactive waste will be involved. It’s just deep holes being dug and there’s little harm in that.

  3. Donald Pay 2016-04-21 18:11

    As part of being “open and honest,” can we finally get a disclosure of all the information submitted in the North Dakota and South Dakota applications to DOE? Just sitting around listening to a sales pitch without having access to the information submitted to DOE by the various applicants seems rather pointless. DOE, of course, refused to disclose this information about a year ago. South Dakota officials have refused to release any information, despite driving this application in secret for over a year. Daugaard has refused to require release of the information to citizens, even though he says he supports the project. Now, finally, is the time for honesty. Let’s hear why this information has been kept secret for nearly a year, and now DOE wants “consent” within a few weeks. I’d say they need to give citizens at least a year to figure out whether this project meets their approval.

  4. mike from iowa 2016-04-21 18:35

    I’d be demanding definitions of “no’ and “radioactive materials”. They never appear to match accepted definitions.

  5. Roger Cornelius 2016-04-21 19:42

    In a couple of years when nuclear waste needs to be gotten rid of, they’ll tell us that the test bore holes in Spink County would be an ideal place since the holes are already there.

  6. grudznick 2016-04-21 19:51

    Might also be a good place for just regular garbage.

  7. Donald Pay 2016-04-21 20:07

    Daugaard, RESPEC, SDSM&T and the others involved in putting together the SD application to the Department of Energy for this project have been working on it since at least last year at this time. Before that application was even starting to come together, these folks and the Department of Energy should have insisted on public meetings held around the state. Those meetings should have occurred in April 2015, not April 2016. It is far, far too late now for these meetings to be anything but a public relations exercise.

    There is considerable legal questions about whether the Department of Energy can willy-nilly concoct out of thin air an illegal process that is completely outside the requirements of its own Request for Proposal regulations. This process is illegal.

  8. Rorschach 2016-04-21 20:14

    A lot of weasel words in there.

    “[N]o radioactive waste will be used in THIS PROJECT” (emphasis added). The project is the deep borehole field test. The radioactive waste would come later as part of a different “project.”

    “Regulatory standards for nuclear waste disposal are extremely demanding, and due to the close proximity of water to the granite, this site is not expected to meet those performance standards.” Well what do you know?! The water wasn’t too close afterall! Well what do you know?! The standards changed before the “project” results were publicized, and it just so happens that the new standards say nuke waste can go there.

    “Additionally, it would be performed on private land where the owners do not wish to host a waste disposal site.” Doubtful that the surface owners also own the mineral rights, but whoever does will sign an extremely lengthy contract that has some kind of a hidden hook in it. And the big hammer: Eminent Domain.

    Some poor schmuck is going to make a few bucks, and Spink County is going to be the nation’s nuke waste dump.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-21 20:29

    Note the last quote Ror highlights: the project “would be performed on private land where the owners do not wish to host a waste disposal site.” Evidently, Battelle et al. have already identified specific sites and spoken with specific landowners. I hope I’ll meet them next week and get their statements on the record.

    You know, Dakota Access is supposed to run through Spink County. Keystone 1 runs just to the east along the edge of Clark County. Maybe if they drill these holes, we can tap the pipelines and top off the boreholes as our own state oil reserve. If Battelle digs two holes, we can use one for Bakken crude and the other for TransCanada’s tar sands oil. ;-)

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-21 20:30

    Grudz! Which meeting can you make? I’ll let you hold my camera while I interview the landowners and engineers.

  11. grudznick 2016-04-21 20:33

    Mr. H, I am a very good camera person. These meetings are in Spink county and over dinner time. Will there be a meal provided if I can get there?

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-21 20:38

    I don’t know if Battelle is serving, but I’m sure I can find some food to buy you. I’ll bring a bag of trail mix so you don’t get gravy all over my camera.

  13. grudznick 2016-04-21 20:42

    This is, they say, a science project. I’m a fan of science and am surprised so many bloggers here are against it. Science should not be feared.

  14. Donald Pay 2016-04-21 21:01


    The proposal submitted to DOE last year was supposed to identify a specific site. That should have been part of the South Dakota application, which I tried to obtain through a Freedom of Information Act request which DOE denied. Here’s the main point: Battelle was not involved in that application. Battelle’s application, which DOE accepted, had an identified site in North Dakota, not in South Dakota.

    DOE is acting lawlessly, illegally twisting the entire bidding process it set up, and I’m concerned that there is no legal basis on which to believe any of the folks holding the “open house” have any legal authority to say anything at this meeting, and certainly can’t be held to anything they say.

    Consider: Battelle’s accepted bid is no longer valid, yet somehow we have Battelle leading the South Dakota project without any legal authority to do so.

    Consider: South Dakota’s application was never accepted by DOE, so the people involved in that application have no authority to speak or to be held to what they say regarding this project.

    What we have is DOE is ignoring their RFP process, thus putting this entire project in legal limbo, while trying to pretend there is nothing to worry about. Well, I’d be worried, very worried about DOE’s attempt to illegally push this project through a flaw RFP process.

    DOE needs to void the Battelle contract and rebid the whole project.

  15. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-21 21:08

    Sorry, I have been traveling all day and I haven’t been able to comment on this until now.

    With regard to additional science, I seem to recall that there was a similar project proposed for Homestake, but this was to get at all of those weird microbes that live underground. I think the goal would be to see which ones would do a better job at eating lignocellulosic material, which would make it easier to make biofuel from feedstocks other than corn. So we don’t know what is at this site, but that is the undiscovered country that is science.

    From what I understand, you can forget storing any nuclear waste at this particular site due to the aquifer. The research is necessary to drill the straightest hole possible over 15,000 feet or so, which is no small feat. One would not want to have a waste vessel get stuck midway, so they need to have a test site without any radiological material to get the rest of the engineering right.

    The same techniques would have application for geothermal energy studies, but yes, primarily the lessons learned would be applied for the disposal of military wastes.

  16. leslie 2016-04-21 21:34

    yup. they need to practice drilling deep holes. for high hazard nuclear waste disposal, trucked into the site. that might be why the bloggers fear this grudz. you should get to know the good doctor. (I do appreciate you input from the university, sir.) I also appreciate and acknowledge Don Pay’s decades of experience freely give to this effort to reveal what DOE is selling (has sold???) to SD.

    just like the Antarctic ice caps and sea ice are being drilled for practice using many universities’ expertise and reputation. wonder what they are practicing there for? Oil extraction.

  17. grudznick 2016-04-21 21:48

    Dr. McTaggert, that sounds like fun and interesting science.

  18. Donald Pay 2016-04-21 21:54

    Dr. McTaggart,

    Two points. Everything that I’ve read about the science indicates that any valid test of the deep borehole project is going to have to include a consideration of the deep microbes. These microbes will be disturbed by the changes in environment caused by drilling, introduced substances, heat of the waste, etc, and how that affects heat and corrosion caused by microbial action that could affect waste containers or the borehole casing. That has to be studied to be of any use. The problem is much of the deep microbial biota is very site specific, so what the study discovers may not be transferable to other sites. Thus, again, we have a built-in incentive for DOE to select this test site as the disposal site.

    Second, DOE seems to think drilling a straight hole is what they need to do. Other scientists that I heard at the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board meeting in October 2015 seemed to think otherwise. They were suggesting that drilling at a slant would be better for the following reasons: (1) you get a better understanding of the geology, particularly of certain faults, etc., that are more likely to be intersected if drilling is at a slant, and (2) you can get a more gentle emplacement of waste containers, thus minimizing potential accidents.

    At any rate, all of this needs much further discussion. A major criticism of the DOE study at the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board was that DOE was rushing it, and that they needed to slow down and have greater independent peer-review of all the elements of the study. The borehole test has been on the fast track with just a bunch of self-interested consortia and DOE involved in the process. The public, needless to say, has been completely shut out, but so have most of the scientific community. The result has been a tremendous sloppiness in the DOE process. All this needs to slow down, have adequate peer review and engage the public, not a few weeks before decisions are made, but years before.

    Time to rethink the whole process. It needs to be taken out of DOE and put into and independent agency where science, rather than nuclear industry deadlines, are put first.

  19. grudznick 2016-04-21 22:02

    I am certainly no brain scientist or nuclear scientist but I agree with Mr. Pay’s concerns about deep microbes and the things that might happen with heat and pressure and garbage down there. They could mutate. Into things we don’t understand. But then again that could be part of the science experiment.

    On the straight hole concern I believe that straight holes can be drilled at an angle or slant. But if you want them deep it is shorter to go straight down.

  20. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-21 22:08

    A couple of comments regarding the transport of nuclear waste in general.

    I haven’t done this calculation in a while, but you may get more dose from the Potassium-40 in a couple of bananas than standing near a shielded vessel used to transport nuclear waste….and I don’t think we are on the verge of banning bananas.

    If you double your distance away from the waste, you reduce your dose by a factor of 4. Actually it is a little bit more because air does provide a little shielding. I would suspect that security measures would keep people far enough away even with all of the shielding.

  21. John Kennedy Claussen 2016-04-21 22:19

    When you build a pipeline and later have a problem with it, you apparently then dig a hole to solve the problem. But if you are digging a hole on its own, but then have a problem later with it, what do you do? Do you then build a hopeful pipeline and dialogue to move it along?….. And to where and to whom, and why would anyone want it or being willing to take it? ;-)

  22. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-21 22:26

    Mr. Pay,

    I think the drilling science is going to be fairly independent of the site, because they will have to deal with different temperatures, pressures, densities, etc.

    It is an interesting point about the effects of any potential microbes that may exist down there. I am interested as a scientist to see if they find microbes that are not related to anything else alive on earth…something not on our “family tree”. Does it use RNA and DNA?

    It is an easy thing to take a sample and expose different materials to said microbes in different environments (temperature, access to heat, water, food source, etc.) and see what happens with regard to corrosion, etc. That scientific process can occur for any site, and does not mean that nuclear waste must be stored at this site only. It just means that the solutions will be site-specific.

    Let’s assume the worst happens, and the containment of the waste vessel breaks down due to microbes, pressure, heat, etc. The waste will be encased in a tube of 15,000 feet of something (concrete? dirt from the bore hole?). The question will be whether those items could find their way into groundwater. Strontium-90 and Cesium-137 have half-lives of ~30 years, so the more pertinent question is whether this would get into the groundwater in a timescale of 10 half-lives (300 years).

  23. grudznick 2016-04-21 22:30

    This is starting to sound like the plot for one of those movies. Where a whole new life form is discovered deep underground and the glow from the dial of a Timex turns it mutant and it digs back up the bore hole and attacks Tulare.

  24. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-21 22:44

    With regard to grudznick’s comment regarding mutation of the microbes, that is certainly possible, but that could also occur due to a change in environmental conditions without radiation. Mutations occur all the time in biology with or without radiation. The majority of mutations in nature are either benign or simply cause the death of the cell. Some in humans can produce cancer, which is why our regulations for radiation safety take human biology and its response to radiation into account when setting occupational limits for radiation workers or exposure to the public.

  25. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-21 22:48

    I meant the original comment by grudznick….not the one about taking over Tulare ;^).

  26. leslie 2016-04-21 23:03

    bananas, schmanas Doc. No need to dumb down delivery (except for grudz who is a troll) as a future expert witness. the concern is a spill, a trucking accident, a weld that cracks, you might say.

    “The Acerinox accident was an incident of radioactive contamination in Cádiz (Spain). In May 1998, a caesium-137 source managed to pass through the monitoring equipment in an Acerinox scrap metal reprocessing plant in Los Barrios, Spain. When melted, the caesium-137 caused the release of a radioactive cloud. The Acerinox chimney detectors failed to detect it, but it was eventually detected in France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. The radioactive levels measured were up to 1000 times higher than normal.

    The accident contaminated the scrap metal reprocessing plant, plus two other steel mills where it sent its waste for decontamination. According to independent laboratories,[1] the ashes produced by the Acerinox factory had between 640 and 1420 becquerels per gram (the Euratom norm is 10 Bq/g), high enough to be a threat to the public.

    On the radiological consequences of this event, six people were exposed to slight levels of caesium-137 contamination. The estimated total costs for clean-up, waste storage, and lost production in the factory were around 26 million US dollars (most of it due to the lost production).[2]” wiki

    truck rumbles over notorious RC rail crossings, or a firey accident ensues. I’m sure the trailer will have built in safeguards, and wiki is just that, but now rather that at Hanford or San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, its in the street on my way to the library!

    I’m not a granola cruncher (too much fat and sugar!) as my brother runs a plant, life-long career, and is a former nuke submariner. he doesn’t glow yet, afaik.

  27. Ben 2016-04-21 23:18

    Interesting science project. It’s about time our government decides to address this issue of nuclear waste long time disposal or storage. This has been studied since the 70’s and now the funding has diminished and Europe is leading the way. We can follow or lead. The university has done amazing things in research in the last few years, SUSEL, shale inititive, etc. Leading this research will benefit our young engineers and scientists to help solve a world problem. It is clear from all releases that actual disposal is not going to happen. I have a lot of trust in our most respected university. Excited to hear where this project is going.

  28. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-21 23:35

    Some of the exposures you mention are a result of the use of radioisotopes for various industrial or medical purposes in other nations. Yet another reason why the world needs American leadership in nuclear security.

    Every now and then you hear of a source that was not disposed of properly, such as when medical facilities close or equipment used by radiographers is not tracked. The levels of oversight and the financial requirements for said oversight are often not as strong as in the United States. The situation for commercial and military nuclear waste in the U.S. is much different due to the oversight by the NRC and the DOE.

    We cannot see ionizing radiation directly. In my opinion, because we are visual creatures that lack of direct knowledge can be disconcerting. That can be a big hurdle to overcome to convince folks that we can indeed protect the public from radiological materials through engineering and science. The folks who do not take as great care with security and safety as the NRC or DOE do make that job harder.

  29. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-22 05:33

    Dr McTaggert, Is that like the ” great care with security and safety” that the NRC and DOE took with tests at Los Alamos and in the Nevada desert, over the decades?

  30. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-22 06:37

    Hi Lanny,

    The NRC never did any such tests…they just regulate and promote safety. I’m a scientist, but I cannot build a time machine to go back and change the way things were done.

    Both above ground and below ground nuclear tests were done in New Mexico and Nevada. Let’s be clear: The United States does not pursue above ground testing any more….because of the testing that has been done. But at the time it was pursued to design and test nuclear weapons to (a.) develop them before other nations like Germany and Japan did and (b.) later prevent a much greater war with the Soviet Union. With the advent of supercomputers and other advanced engineering, such testing is not necessary, and one can avoid the unwanted dispersal of radionuclides through the air into the environment as a result.

    I would say that there were some very hard lessons learned about the nature of radiation during that time, and that has beneficially impacted our health physics (radiation safety) regulations. At very large doses, the risk of cancer and other diseases increases linearly with the radiation dose. So we try to reduce radiation doses as much as possible through reducing exposure times, providing shielding, and simply keeping people away. That connection is one legacy of the nuclear weapons development that is still valid for medical, industrial, or power applications. At low doses (which we get every day) the connection is a bit more murky because human biology can better repair any damage, but we still conservatively apply the linear no-threshold model for radiation protection.

    The sites you mention are still of interest to those studying nuclear forensics. Similar forensic techniques for air, water, and soil monitoring developed during and since those tests can determine if North Korea detonates a device and how strong said device was.

    Having the nuclear weapons in many ways prevented their use upon us. The connection to deep borehole drilling is that the waste that was produced in that development must be safely removed from the above ground environment from sites like Hanford.

    “Conventional” weaponry is getting good enough to produce targeted damage without leaving any radioactivity. The U.S. in fact recently completed an effort with the Russians to convert some of their nuclear warheads into commercial nuclear fuel. There is some discussion now about how to generate mixed oxide fuel from such feedstocks to make more electricity. Ultimately the best way to get rid of plutonium from such weaponry altogether is to consume it in a reactor to make electricity.

  31. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-22 07:20

    I am attending a health physics conference today to listen to some interesting talks on radiation safety in both medicine and industry, so I may not be able to participate in further discussions today.

    Here is just one beneficial application of radiation to industry. Because radiation is attenuated by matter, paper industries sometimes use a small radioactive source to determine the thickness of their paper rolls while they are being made. If the detector on the other side of the paper sheet sees less radiation, the paper is too thick and computers make an adjustment to the thickness on the fly. Since the radiation is not energetic enough to change the nuclei that make up the paper (i.e. one cannot knock out a neutron or proton), it does not make paper radioactive. Thus large volumes of paper can be safely made with a uniform thickness.

  32. mike from iowa 2016-04-22 07:41

    If memory serves, dumbass dubya and his motley crew of warmongers were tossing around the idea of using tactical nukes for Afghanistan and Iraq. Those presumably would have been above ground explosions.

    As a scientist I would imagine you do what you are told to do by higher ups. A Drumpf or Cruz presidency would probably include first strike nukes on everyone, just because.

  33. Donald Pay 2016-04-22 08:00

    Dr. McTaggart,

    Listen to the webcast or read the transcripts of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board meetings in October 2015. The thing that stands out to me is that the independent scientists there were looking at turning the study of the borehole concept into real science. They wanted to focus the drilling and associated testing on finding out what the real difficulties are. In short, they wanted a real science project. DOE does not, apparently, want that. They didn’t change anything about their approach after that meeting. They want a quick and dirty fake science study. They don’t want public input, for sure, and their idea of consent is to find a corrupt red-state Governor and slam it through. But they also don’t want any independent science that would peer review anything either. This is NOT a science project.

    That’s why this isn’t a science project.

  34. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-22 08:45

    Awe, come on folks, this is just another in a long line of economic development projects promoted by our state government. Look at all of the good ones that they have promoted in the past. Uranium mining in the Edgemont area comes to mind. When that failed, then a sewage ash dump there. When that went bankrupt, the state picked up the bill for cleanup. Then a nuclear waste dump was proposed and finally the Lonetree national waste dump, which was overturned by the voters after approval by the legislature.

    We of course have the three pipelines, two of which allowed a foreign company to eminent domain private landowners property in order to build, and the one that was built has only leaked a few times in less than ten years.

    Then we have the coal hauling DM&E railroad, which was approved and on schedule to send 20 or so hundred or more car trains a day through Pierre and Brookings, until done in by St Mary’s hospital in Rochester MN.

    Speaking of coal, we also had our state approve the Big Stone II coal burner and on schedule to do the same with the one at Selby. But they both went by the wayside, when the Minnesota PUC put a stop to the Big Stone II.

    Then we have the Gorilla project, just like what Mr Pay had found on this project, we could find no information on exactly what it was, an oil refinery and another coal burner. Ironically we would not have even been in the bidding for the Gorilla, if Kansas had not turned it down because of the coal burner power plant.

    And how can we talk about economic development without mentioning concentrated animal feeding operations, CAFOs that have brought us 10,000 head and more dairy herds and huge pig factories and now another chicken farm.

    And finally the uranium mining industry is back trying to get approval at several sites in South Dakota to mine uranium with no guarantee that they will clean up after themselves when they leave or protect our water while they are here.

    But why should we care? It is only our land, water and air that they will foul, and it is only the health of our people and future generations that we would like to see protected.

  35. Stephanie 2016-04-22 11:38

    As a resident of Rugby, ND, I’ve been following this story very closely. Here are some of the questions that we never got answers to and, however Redfield proceeds, I hope they get their questions answered and have a better working relationship with Battelle & the DOE than we did.

    How would thy replicate nuclear waste in the hole? The Hanford capsules that Sec. Moniz mentioned would be suitable for early disposal through a borehole method produce 1.2 million btu’s of heat an hour. Yet neither Battelle or Andrew Griffith answered the question of how they would replicate that process during the test to make sure the concept of a deep borehole could indeed handle that level of sustained heat production, and what it would do to the fluids/microbes at that level, or the crystalline granite, or their capsules. As well as what does Sec Moniz mean by “early disposal through the borehole method”? How early?

    How and when would they complete an environmental impact study before the proposed start of drilling on Sept 1? Federal funds are being used for the completion of this project by Battelle, so it seems they would be subject to the regulations in NEPA. They had done no study and said they had no plans to at the meeting in Rugby. It was the first question of the meeting, asked by our Commissioner Chairman, and they did not answer.

    How would the fracking be carried out during the test phase? What were their responsibilities for remediation of the soil and area if any accidents and spills occurred? They did not answer. Other contracts run through the ND Industrial Commission do not require the company/organization at fault to return topsoil, so we naturally had concerns that this would also be the case in the event of any spill or contamination of fracking fluid.

    How would they test the watershed or movement of fluids at the depth of 16,000 feet? At the time of the Rugby meeting there appeared to be no test designed to study how the fluid and water actually flow at that depth. In the event of actual waste disposal, or in the efforts to understand the fluid activity at that depth for purely geologic research, it seemed odd no part of the study was designed to work on this.

    Would the Dept of Energy and Battelle work with the county as a cooperating agency, as is outlined in NEPA, to keep local government informed through the process? Is the county had a land use policy in place, would they abide by it and work through a consistency analysis, and provide mediation strategies if the project would negatively effect the county and its land use?

    At the meeting in Rugby, Andrew Griffith, in response to many similar questions, said that we can’t believe everything we read in the media, yet declined to answer my question on where I/We were supposed to get answers or any info on the project. He said to simply watch their (DOE’s) actions. Yet that means that we sit back and wait for them to act, and not be involved beforehand or in the siting process. It was extremely hard to trust them throughout this process because of comments like these.

    In the ND case, there were letters from the State Land Board negotiating a contract for the land at a price of $6500 an acre for 20 acres for 5 yrs as well as an on site tour for members of the Land Board, dated back in August. Yet our state leaders claimed as late as January that they knew nothing about the project, even though they sit on the Land Board.

    And finally, the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, gave a summary of their October meeting to Congress in January, in it they advised that they use the test borehole project as a test for the new consent based siting process. Sec of Energy Moniz and Mr Griffith both said they don’t need to do that. Even though at the October meeting Griffith himself was quoted as saying that this project may feel like “the camel’s nose is already in the tent” to the residents of the test site. We felt as if, if we are “watching their actions”, they were disregarding sound advice from the NWTRB, and Griffith’s own gut instinct that people would feel threatened, in an effort to fast track this project.

    If anyone would like to discus this more I am open for discussion. I also have copies of all the things I referenced in this post, including the state letters, minutes of the County Commissioners meeting, reports from Sandia Labs, the DOE, NWTRB, and schematics of their canister design, etc…

  36. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-22 13:43

    With regard to Lanny’s comments about air, water, and soil monitoring, I would agree that environmental monitoring is a good thing to do before, during, and after projects like in situ uranium mining. Not only for radionuclides, but for other elements or chemicals that are either brought up from below or used in processing. We need to find a way to pay for it.

    Likewise, I think an environmental monitoring program for the proposed deep borehole drilling project would be a good thing to do. I don’t know what has been done so far, or what they plan to do. Everybody wants to see zeros or naturally-occurring levels in such a report, and that strengthens the argument that the operations are safe.

    With regard to Mr. Pay, I believe that science will win out. DOE does support scientific endeavors (see the underground physics being developed at Homestake). All of us, including the DOE, have an interest in the permanent isolation of defense wastes from the biosphere.

    While some aspects of heat load can be simulated, there is nothing like real data. Theoretical simulations are only the first step in an iterative process.

    The DOE is currently going around the country and receiving public input regarding consent-based processes independent of this deep borehole project (that may be for interim storage facilities). I support the implementation of best practices with regard to a consent-based process for this project.

  37. leslie 2016-04-22 14:03

    “We need to find a way to pay for it”. the cow is already out. at initial informational phases these questions were asked. inadequate bonds were posted based on inadequate transparency. adequate transparency may well kill the project.

    thus, we have likely heard all we will hear from the Doctor unless it helps their case. which is to put high hazard “military” nuke waste in deep holes after being transported across the country through and to Spink County. It just happened again in ND.

    while I respect his science, the Doctor’s assertions remind of a cautious lawyer dancing around liability.

  38. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-22 14:19

    Hi Leslie,

    Thanks again for your comments. I hope we can agree that a good environmental monitoring program would be desirable in any of these efforts related to the nuclear fuel cycle. If it is worth doing, then it is worth paying for. But given the challenges at the federal level with regard to budgets, that can be a tall order.

    Idaho National Lab partners with Idaho State University to do environmental assays for radionuclides in things like air, water, soil, vegetables, milk, and yes even potatoes. They make sure that no releases occur at the lab and verify this through independent assay. So such programs are indeed possible in my experience and they work.

    While it is clear that no nuclear waste is being transported to the proposed site, I think it is OK to ask questions about the security and safety available today for the transport of nuclear waste. If I can provide some more light on the subject I will certainly try.

  39. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-22 14:53

    For your information…

    The Department of Energy website has some information regarding its consent-based siting efforts:

    There are also various other links of interest there, including some limited discussion of transportation.

    In 2013 they released a report on the strategy for managing nuclear waste given the recommendations of the 2012 Blue Ribbon Commission:

  40. Donald Pay 2016-04-22 15:13

    The point is, Dr. McTaggart, that for science to win out this borehole process, indeed the entire federal radioactive waste program, has to be completely transformed.

    The Blue Ribbon Commission (the federal one on radioactive waste, not the state one on teacher salaries) addressed this issue. Consent-based siting and a completely independent agency (not DOE) were supposed to be the way forward on radioactive waste. Neither is being followed in the deep borehole disposal issue, or in the shale area either. We don’t have a federal consent-based rule yet, and the agency developing that rule is precisely the agency that should not be developing the rule, according to the Blue Ribbon Commission.

    South Dakota doesn’t really have a state process that allows for citizen consent, although I called for Governor Daugaard to develop that process 3 years ago when he said he wouldn’t approve a radioactive waste site in South Dakota unless the people voted for it. Empty words.

    South Dakota’s Governor is, of course, rolling over for this project, unlike the courageous Governor in North Dakota. Right now Governor Daugaard is the sole authority under state law, who can decide whether there is a radioactive waste disposal site in South Dakota .

    DOE said no to a NEPA process in North Dakota, and they are likely to not follow federal environmental law in South Dakota either.

    DOE has illegally bastardized the Request for Proposal process so that it is unlikely there is any legal authority for this project.

    I’m sure DOE can do science, and does in other areas, but they really don’t in the area of radioactive waste. They are under the gun by politicians and the nuclear industry to develop solutions, after decades, to the radioactive waste issue. DOE’s efforts on radioactive waste are really to plug the holes of the current failing system while trying desperately to find suckers to take on the next failing system. They aren’t interest in science. Science gets in the way. They want to do enough science to fool the anti-science politicians. That’s it.

    I’m sure there are scientists doing good work at the Sanford Lab. I’m also sure DOE recently has used the Sanford Lab as some sort Trojan Horse. I do know several scientists involved there and with the SD Science and Technology Authority have been involved in the radioactive waste issue with DOE. I’m also sure DOE will try, as you have, to mix issues in order to confuse the public.

  41. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-22 15:25

    Mr. Pay,

    I’m going to advocate for a position, but that doesn’t mean that you have to agree with me :^). However, we cannot go back and undo the nuclear waste that has been produced. If we do not solve it by isolating it, then it will stay on the surface where it is.

  42. Donald Pay 2016-04-22 15:40

    Dr. McTaggart,

    Let’s correctly asses the situation. It was the nuclear industry and the gutless politicians who took us off the scientific approach to solving this issue. The “Screw Nevada” bill and other political meddling at the behest of the nuclear industry stopped the scientific work that was proceeding up until then. I used to get packets of studies in the mail every week from the Office of Nuclear Waste Isolation. They didn’t try to hide stuff. Some of this work was done by RESPEC in Rapid City. We’ve gone way, way backwards on this stuff, and until we correct the process, take secrecy and politics out and put science and openness back in, all that stuff has to stay on the surface. Period.

  43. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-22 16:39

    Donald, I’m intrigued by what you’re saying about the site re-selection process perhaps being illegal, not authorized by the original award and contract with Battelle. Do we know what the language is in the Battelle contract? Might there be some provision under which DOE allows Battelle to switch sites due to various contingencies?

  44. Donald Pay 2016-04-22 17:46

    Cory, I’m sure we don’t know what’s in the original award and contract. I do know that DOE was requiring all submissions to identify a particular site with enough evidence that the site would be available for at least 5 years. I’m sure they had that in both North and South Dakota. In North Dakota it may not have gone up to the decision level, which is controlled by various elected leaders. They probably had some letter from some high level administrator.

    It is unfathomable that they would require a submission to put that much effort at up front site selection and then allow the submitter to switch sites, particularly across state lines. Remember, they were assuming state government buy-in through having various state institutions being part of the submitting consortia. In North Dakota it was a the EERI at the University. In SD, it’s SDSM&T. They wouldn’t want EERI involved in SD. But Battelle has apparently been allowed by DOE to cast off their ND partners with whom they submitted their RFP and take on SD partners. This is not how the RFPs were submitted, and it can’t be how they were accepted, and it can’t be how they signed the contract.

    I’m not sure who would have standing to question this in court. Do citizens who see massive waste, fraud and abuse of process have standing to sue, or would it only be one of the aggrieved submitters who could sue? Any lawyers out there willing to research this?

  45. Stephanie 2016-04-22 19:31

    Through everything I have learned in the last few months, your county commissioners hold all the power to stop this. They can challenge the RFP in court, they can challenge the DOE through NEPA, they can request to be a coordinating partner to get a seat at the table, they can request and get a FOIA request granted. You have to rely on elected officials to get any seat at the table. There is a law firm in Wyoming who can give you advice and specializes in this type of thing. I can forward their information if you require it, but unfortunately, you have to have your commissioners on board to get anywhere. If you have a state association of counties their legal counsel can advise your commissioners as well. Your county could also request information before making a decision to approve a permit for this process, it may require a temporary moratorium as Pierce County did to gain the time to educate themselves and hold hearings and request information.

    Here is the original RFP, albeit not filled out with Battelle’s information, but it gives you the detail. A lot of documents have been collated on this website.

  46. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-22 21:55

    Mr. Pay,

    I think leaving the stuff where it is does not solve the problem, and may in fact exacerbate it as materials age over time.

    If openness and transparency are important, would a joint committee of stakeholders (community, researchers, experts, governments, etc.) to provide some oversight move the ball forward a bit?

  47. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-22 23:46

    Dr McTaggert, who got the benefit of cleaner and cheaper electricity from the nuclear power that produced the waste? Wouldn’t it make sense that it would then be up to those folks to dispose of the waste and not shift it onto areas of the country where poverty is already an issue?

    Also, all of a sudden we are talking about military nuclear waste not just that produced in nuclear power plants. I presume that is the waste from the nuclear subs, but does it also include depleted uranium military waste?

  48. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-23 09:52

    Donald, the RFP Stephanie provides includes this statement: “During the characterization process, DOE reserves the right to identify with the Contractor another site through this contract for conducting the DBFT activities. DOE reserves the right to negotiate another drilling site(s) through this contract.” Does that cover allowing Battelle to drill in South Dakota instead of at the originally proposed North Dakota site?

  49. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-23 10:05

    Section H.11 of the RFP Stephanie shares reads, “In no case will the US Government place or otherwise have nuclear material, waste, or other waste disposal material on the property.”

  50. Donald Pay 2016-04-23 11:28


    No. That right to switch sites only occurs “during the characterization process.” The characterization process is described in the RFP, and it involves the drilling of the the first borehole. If something goes wrong during drilling or if it becomes apparent the first borehole is being drilled in an unsuitable site, they can negotiate a switch in site. That provision does not apply in this instance. We, of course, haven’t been allowed to see the contract signed by DOE and Battelle. They have not deigned to let us peons in on that little detail, so we don’t know if the RFP was overridden by the contract. I’m sure these folks might go in an amend the contract, back dating as necessary to cover any loose ends.

    They were already supposed to have held their little Las Vegas “kick off meeting,” according to the schedule in the RFP. Not sure if they skipped that, or it was already held. Nice, isn’t it, that they hold these meeting outside the state that is selected as the site? Pretty typical of how DOE works. We do need to ask for the transcripts of all the meetings, correspondence, etc., between DOE and South Dakota and Battelle. I’m sure they’ll deny release of this information. That’s also how DOE works: screw the people.

  51. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-23 16:29


    Thank you for those comments. I will address both of them, but I answer the last one first.

    The type of waste that would go into a deep borehole disposal facility would be the military wastes. Primarily those tend to have Cesium-137 and Strontium-90, which have half-lives of roughly 30 years. But of course the radioactivity in said wastes is not the only issue with them…there are likely other chemical agents that are not nice.

    Currently the waste forms generated by commercial nuclear power would not be suitable for such a facility. There has not been any engineering done to make them fit in the size of hole they can safely dig, or to study what unique safety procedures are necessary. Things like heat load and internal chemistry are different for commercial wastes.

    Those of you in the “camel’s nose under the tent” group can wonder if this method would ever be used for commercial wastes. But right now the whole nuclear industry is set up for a repository like that proposed at Yucca Mountain. Pretty tough to change embedded infrastructure like that all of a sudden…and expensive.

    I am generally opposed to the deep borehole disposal method for the once-through cycle. Once it is buried it will not be accessible for recycling, which means we will need to mine more uranium (or thorium) and the volume of waste that needs burial will be larger. After we have extracted all of the latent energy and any other critical elements from the current wastes, then I would consider deep borehole disposal for what remains.

  52. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-23 16:52

    Dr McTaggert, In light of your reply, I am led to believe that the only waste that will be disposed of in the deep bore holes, is the weaponry as well as the expended shells that were made from the depleted uranium. Is that correct?

    If so would you then be in favor of discontinuing using depleted uranium for any future weapons and or shells, thus eliminating the need for any future deep bore holes?

  53. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-23 17:00

    Now for the first comment :^).

    Siting a nuclear waste facility at the point of generation is effectively what we are doing now. The utilities must pay extra to store the waste in concrete casks, and they pass on those costs to consumers. The government (in theory) had responsibilities under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to take that waste away.

    I would submit that we all have benefited from clean electricity produced by nuclear power over the last 50 years. The alternative would have been to generate that electricity largely by coal or natural gas, and up to a few years ago that would have been all coal. Illinois has a few reactors…if they were all replaced by coal from 1970 until now, wouldn’t the northeast have an acid rain problem?

    While we all benefit, not all potential locations are equal or suitable. In the “Yucca Mountain model” of a permanent waste repository, one needs a desert location and the right geology. Waste containers must be spaced out enough so that the heat load will not convert any groundwater into steam in the facility. Steam can be a vehicle for the transport of radionuclides if the container vessels fail.

    Why was Yucca Mountain considered? It’s pretty geologically stable. It is dry, and removing water removes the possibility of radionuclide transport by steam. The rock would do a good job at containing materials if the vessels failed. Then on top of that there is a lot of engineering to reduce heat load and prevent/reduce vessel failures.

    Such facilities also require maintenance and security, so there is an economic benefit to places that otherwise are too dry to grow food crops or house many other industries.

  54. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-23 17:17


    The military use of depleted uranium has been controversial for some time, but I have to say that I am not familiar with what they do with waste associated with its use.

    As far as I know, the only military wastes we are talking about come from the by-products of developing nuclear weapons, not the isolation of depleted uranium.

  55. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-23 17:48

    The DU tank rounds that we started using in the Iraq war in 1991 were made from depleted uranium. We have since continued using them in all of the wars in which we have been involved, Kosovo, Croatia, Bosnia/Herzegovinia, Afghanistan and Iraq II. I don’t know if we have provided them to others in the proxy wars in which we have been clandestinely involved in the past 20 years. The purpose of using the DU rounds was that they actually burned their way into and through the target. The rifling of shells caused them to heat to over 5,000 degrees.

    In Afghanistan and the second Iraq war, we started using DU for armor plating of Tanks and Artillery pieces. That gave those weapons a stronger shell to protect against being destroyed.

    We have left those battlefields strewn with the DU waste.

    So now you have me confused Dr McTaggert. What are you saying? The waste that you are talking about putting in these deep boreholes, is what we will get from the trillion dollars that the President and Congress are talking about spending to upgrade our nuclear capability?

    As a scientist, I hope that you cannot possibly back this upgrade. If only President Truman had listened to Robert Oppenheimer and those of his colleagues who tried to stop the nuclear escalation.

  56. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-23 19:00

    I cannot speak for the administration, but I thought their desire was to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world. I can buy the argument that one can reduce the number of weapons while making the ones we have more secure and resistant to accidents. Defense systems probably need to be upgraded to take into account the capabilities of other nations and rogue actors.

    The waste that requires isolation from the biosphere is the result of past development, not future development. But I agree that if we continue to develop nuclear weapons, then we will need to eventually isolate that waste as well.

    That is a good question regarding Truman and Oppenheimer. Would one go back in time and stop all nuclear weapons development if it would also mean that no medical imaging would exist, no radiation therapy to treat cancer would exist, no food irradiation to kill pathogens would exist, no particle accelerators would exist to make medical isotopes and explore the subatomic universe, and no large amounts of clean energy would exist from nuclear power?

    Technology is neither good nor bad, but how people choose to use technology can be. The folks in charge should thus have a strong liberal arts education.

  57. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-23 19:34

    I don’t understand how you spend a trillion dollars to upgrade, when you are trying to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world. We don’t want Iran to have nukes because they did not have them when the NNPT was signed. But Israel didn’t have them then, either. But we look the other way in Israel’s case, even though the reason Iran wants them is for deterrence sake.

    Your last paragraph negates what would have happened if Truman had agreed with the anti-nuke group around Oppenheimer. Your assumption there is just like saying, we shouldn’t eat pork chops, because bacon is bad for us. They both come from the hog.

    I went into the Army at the time of the Berlin Crisis, which had our world on the brink of nuclear war. I am watching a PBS series on Netflix on the 1960s, and it is amazing how close we came to nuclear war with the Russians over Cuba. General LeMay tried to convince MacNamara and Kennedy to do a nuclear attack on Russia, as soon as the U-2 plane that photographed Cuba confirmed that there were IBMs and ABMs pointed at the US cities.

    There is only one way to ensure that we won’t have nuclear war and that is to lead the world in disarming all nuclear weapons, period. Absent that, spending a trillion or 5 trillion dollars to upgrade our capability doesn’t mean squat.

  58. grudznick 2016-04-23 20:11

    Dr. McTaggart is surely correct that we have to deal with the icky stuff we already have and pretending to ignore it where it is, in cargo containers scattered around the south unit of the Badlands or wherever it might be, is silly.

    We should embrace this science and see what happens. I want to see the mutations occur of the microbes in my lifetime. That would be exciting.

  59. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-23 20:19

    From my end you are saying let’s have all the benefits of an Arnold Palmer, but remove the lemonade after everything has been mixed together. Historically the development of all those things were interconnected. Not only infrastructure, but also expertise.

    It is difficult to say how history would have changed if the U.S. agreed to not develop nuclear weapons in WW II, but other nations probably would have eventually…when is a good question. People knew about fission before WW II. Even before WW I they knew radioactive decays released a couple million times more energy than a typical chemical process.

    With regard to the money the administration is spending, the last couple of administrations have done a pretty good job at collecting orphaned radiological sources and supporting enhancements for nuclear safety and security across the globe.

  60. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-23 20:28

    So what are you saying Grudznick? We already have nuclear waste being stored in the Badlands of South Dakota? Where did you come up with that information?

  61. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-23 20:34

    Dr McTaggert, You wrote, “With regard to the money the administration is spending, the last couple of administrations have done a pretty good job at collecting orphaned radiological sources and supporting enhancements for nuclear safety and security across the globe.”

    Is that the nuclear waste of which Grudznick, wrote? Is it already being stored in the Badlands of SD?

  62. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-23 20:58


    As long as that icky stuff is on the surface, the costs of oversight will increase, and the chances for environmental issues will continue. Permanent disposal takes care of a lot of that. There are better uses for our money than the way we are storing wastes by default.

    The best outcomes of science are often the unanticipated result of trying to solve complex problems. Nobody could have predicted that the particle physics of the 80’s and 90’s would lead to the web browser….which eventually led to this blog. Wow.

  63. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-23 21:07


    Some of the “orphaned sources” I speak of were left behind when the Soviet Union broke up and the other nations that were starting (or re-starting). The U.S. collected those and got them off the market. That was money well spent. I don’t know where that is being isolated at the moment.

    There is no nuclear waste in the Badlands. Maybe he is thinking about the uranium mining that was done around Edgemont.

  64. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-23 21:47

    Comment before last, I believe Dr. McTaggart called my blog nuclear waste… or at least a by-product of particle physics research. That’s pretty cool. :-)

    Now on technical points: really, Dr. McTaggart, typical nuclear power plant waste wouldn’t fit in the borehole? Is that just because of the size of the waste material or because of the size of the containers and the need for space for heat dispersal?

    That gets me asking some basic technical questions (forgive me if I’ve missed these points earlier:

    1. What shape and phase does nuclear waste come in? Is it just spent fuel rods (how big?)? Is it liquid? Could we break it down physically to fit in smaller containers that would fit in the borehole?
    2. What diameter will the borehole be?
    3. You mentioned the once-through process; can we re-process once-through nuclear material for further power generation? If not, what other uses would it have?

    On the historical/time machine point, which takes us far afield but is still plenty fun: We put away Hitler without nukes, and whether we needed them to subdue Japan is debatable. But how would the Cold War have played out with Soviets with nukes and Americans without?

  65. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-23 22:24

    Dr McTaggert, I am more confused than ever on this issue. Where is the “stuff” that is going to go into the bore holes, coming from?

    Cory, I cannot accept your challenge of what would have happened if The Soviets had nukes and we didn’t. That is what leaders do, put a cork in the bottle before it releases its deadly genie. That is what negotiation is about. We knew that the Soviets didn’t have “the bomb” yet. But as is typical, we had the fear mongers insisting that Oppenheimer was a communist and was going to give the technology to the Soviets. So those fear mongers convinced Truman to take Oppenheimer off the NRC. They were then able to proceed with the technology to make the hydrogen bomb which is 1000 times as powerful as the atom bombs that we used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Detonate one of those bad boys, and it’s all over for the planet.

  66. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-23 22:44

    This blog in effect has been facilitated by particle physics research :^), and is not nuclear waste. I’ll try to answer all of your questions.

    Present fuel bundles would not work for a couple of reasons. Size is primary. So not only would you need a bigger hole, but additional engineering would be necessary to maintain heat loads at a nominal level.

    Nuclear fuel comes in these pellets that are square cylinders not quite the size of your thumb. I would call the material a ceramic, designed that way to stop fission products in their tracks. Those fuel pellets are stacked into fuel rods, which are combined into fuel bundles, and then into a fuel assembly.

    The Nuclear Energy Institute states that for boiling water reactors a fuel assembly is 14.5 feet high and weighs 704 pounds. For pressurized water reactors the fuel assembly is 13 feet high and weighs 1,450 pounds.

    So no, you wouldn’t be able to convert the ceramic into a liquid. The advanced reactors that use a molten salt instead of a rigid fuel assembly may be better suited for this method of disposal.

    This article gives some information about the size of the borehole:
    “The initial test hole would measure 8.5 inches in diameter at the bottom, while the second deep borehole would measure 17 inches in diameter at the bottom”. Not sure about the size on the surface.

    The bottom line with recycling (or reprocessing) is that if you can deal with a chemical facility near where you live, a facility that recycles nuclear fuel will be no different since it is chemical in nature. It would generate a significant economic impact. Today cost and the regular nuclear politics inhibit recycling in the U.S.

    All of the nuclear waste that we have generated over 50+ years would fill a single football field, and not make it to the height of the goal posts. The end result of recycling would fit between the goal line and the five yard line.

    “Nuclear waste” is a bit of a misnomer to me. Many of the medical isotopes that we need exist in spent nuclear fuel and could be separated out during recycling. Of interest to fans of renewables are all of the critical elements that solar cells, battery storage, and wind turbines use. Nuclear reactors are the only place on earth where brand-new rare earth elements are being made every day. However, a cost-benefit analysis shows you wouldn’t go for just the critical elements in the waste…those would need to add value to the reprocessing of uranium and plutonium.

  67. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-23 22:57


    The primary isotopes of interest in the military wastes are Cesium-137 and Strontium-90. I don’t know the general make-up. The experts who attend the forums should be able to give a more thorough answer.

    Cesium acts like potassium in the body, and Strontium acts like calcium. Thus one wants to avoid inhalation or ingestion of these in large quantities, and the more you remove from the biosphere, the better.

  68. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-24 00:40

    Dr McTaggert, the article that you cite at 22:44, talks about placing 400 waste canisters in the bottom 2000 meters of the borehole, while at the same time saying that the site is unsuitable for waste disposal and would not be used for the same, due to its proximity to water. Please explain.

    In your comment at 22:57 you mention two types of military waste. In what way are these wastes generated?

    The article that you cite in your comment at 23.07 the same comments are made, as to the site not being suitable for nuclear disposal due to its proximity to water. If that is the case, for what are they planning to use the bore holes?

    There is also a comment at that site, “Preliminary results of Performance Assessment studies show no (negligibly small peak mean annual dose primarily from releases of I-129) radionuclide releases to the biosphere within 1,000,000 years for the undisturbed base-case scenario.”

    In your comment at 16:27 you indicate that the two wastes that you mention again at 22:57, Cesium-137 and Strontium-90 have a half life of 30 years. So what is the need to have a bore hole which has the 1,000,000 year capability?

  69. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-24 01:04

    Cory, Earlier on this thread, I mentioned that I was watching a documentary from PBS, turns out it was from CNN on the 1960s and was being shown on Netflix. Tonight I watched the last few episodes and the last one was the one on our accomplishments in space, ending with the landing on the moon.

    I maintain, that had we gone after that type of pursuit and others toward ending poverty, racism, sexism, and bigotry of all kinds after World War II, instead of going after the dreaded communists in Korea, we could have taken the leadership role in the world that we had earned by our helping to end WWII.

    We cannot make excuses in retrospect to defend the poor decisions that were made in the past to “keep us safe.” None of the wars that we have fought or been involved in covertly since WWII, have done anything but make us more unsafe.

  70. jerry 2016-04-24 03:49

    I note that the good doctor has answered most all questions from everyone, including Mr. Grudznick, with the exception of Stephanie from North Dakota. I think her questions and concerns by the good folks in Rugby, North Dakota, are very pointed and do need an answer. Doctor McTaggert, what say you to those questions? I would also ask this one, why has this been kept so in the dark regarding public information if this is such a safe endeavor as in nothing to see here, please move on? Sandia, Heather Wilson and any association to that firm, kind of spooks me.

    Yucca Mountain has drained tens of millions, why not a bore hole in Nevada or other places that were deemed safe for detonations in the first place?

  71. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-24 10:13

    After reading the article that Jerry cited at 3:49, and in the questions that I have asked and that Dr McTaggert has answered, and in admitting to a prejudice against nuclear energy and its varying uses, I also must admit, that I am in way over my head in this conversation.

    In the article that Jerry cited, is the following statement, “Since 2012, Sandia Corporation has received a series of one-year contract extensions from the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the production of US nuclear warheads. In May, the NNSA issued a notice to prospective bidders that it plans to use a competitive process to decide who will run the laboratory after the corporation’s existing contract expires in 2017.”

    First the article is dated August 2015, but the one year contract that Sandia is working under does not expire until 2017. But worse than that, even though we claim to be trying to lessen the amount of nuclear weapons in the world, visa vie, Iran and North Korea and buying up all of the loose nukes from the former Soviet Union, we still have the NNSA overseeing our production of nuclear warheads.

    Are we being led around by the nose on these issues of war and peace, or is this our government’s way of saying, “we don’t give a shit what the American people think, we are going to keep producing weapons of war no matter what, because that is a part of our economy that we can control.” Is this really simply all that these deep bore holes are all about, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT?

  72. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-24 14:57

    I apologize for the long note below, but I try to address as much as I can.

    First, there will be no nuclear waste or anything radiological used in the proposed project for South Dakota. But lessons learned here would improve any future location in the U.S. that could store waste using this method.

    Second, nobody has made any commitment, particularly the State of South Dakota, that performing this research will inevitably lead to the storage of any type of nuclear waste in South Dakota in the future. The geology has to be right, and the public consent has to be there.

    Third, the present site under discussion is unsuitable for nuclear waste storage due to the proximity of the aquifer. Basically one tries to take water out of the equation as much as possible. That reduces possibilities for corrosion, transport of radionuclides by steam, and perhaps other issues that may occur on the surface.

    Fourth, the 1 million year threshold is overkill for the wastes under consideration. But Lanny raises a good point: Either they are leaving open the possibility that commercial wastes could be engineered to work, or they are just using the same standard for any waste facility, including something like Yucca Mountain. If anything that you put down there never travels very far in one million years, then it is safe.

    With regard to Jerry’s comments, you cannot just drill these sites anywhere. In addition to geology, public consent is a key ingredient, and even more so for the long term operation of an actual disposal site. Sounds like that wasn’t happening in North Dakota, so the proponents moved on.

    Since this is a scientific endeavor, let us allow for the possibility that the scientific process actually works. Opponents lose a bit of the moral high ground when supporting the scientific method to address climate change while ignoring it as part of a solution to our nuclear waste issues.

    As a scientist, I must leave open the possibility that when implemented in the real world this method may not work as well. Failure is an option in science, and is necessary to make things better. Others who disagree with me (shockingly…they exist) may have to consider that the science will show that the process works and is actually safe.

    I would be very open to learning about an alternative to deep borehole disposal that actually generate a solution. I haven’t heard of any so far.

  73. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-24 15:19


    I would gather that sometimes public dissemination does not always mean sending everybody in the public an e-mail or a newsletter, nor providing information when we want it (as opposed to when the data has been analyzed and cleared), nor the amount of information that we want.

    So the public forums are one way that you can ask questions about the process face-to-face.

    I am not aware of any website or e-mail or blog that has been set up specifically for the public to send in their comments with regard to the project. But this blog is doing pretty good so far ;^).

  74. leslie 2016-04-24 15:39

    Dr., your interplay here is appreciated. Your cautious guarded responses reveal you may be the industry’s expert we will be testing for some time. Don has been around for awhile, seen the lengths industry and government go to support industry and the economy, disregarding the long term. compliance with existing regs binds a board to grant a permit.

    Generally, if we pivot from fossil fuels to alternates, nuclear is attractive because of its high output. Fossil fuels were attractive with out calculating their true cost.

    e.g. “Recovery of some dolphin populations could take more than 50 years, while some 30 million gallons of BP oil that remain in Gulf waters may bring new harms for thousands of years to come.”

    Read more:
    Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook

    sometime new scientists to the fray are subject to naivet’e.

  75. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-24 16:45

    Thanks Leslie,

    I believe that nuclear has a role to play in the future, particularly if we want to solve the carbon problem. If one assumes that we need to produce the amount of clean energy that people will actually use, when they want to use it, then solving the carbon problem requires that we solve the nuclear waste problem. We’ll need a contribution from nuclear energy to make that work.

    I agree the true costs of coal have never been fully addressed. But to be honest, renewables have been slow to deal with their own life cycle issues, such as recycling or chemical waste management.

  76. Stephanie 2016-04-24 17:39

    I had also noticed that McTaggart, with answers for everything else, completely avoided any of the questions related to the ND siting of the project. He has managed to get everyone away from the project at hand and into a much broader debate about renewable energy etc… I would like to know what McTaggert’s credentials are, exactly.

    The concerns of Rugby, ND and the siting were all about what happens after the initial 5 year test. Everyone here understood there was no waste included in this 5 year test. Unfortunately, our state land board, in their August 2015 letter, already offered another 5 year lease on the testing site after the initial 5 year test. Everyone wanted to know why and if there would be another public hearing or permitting process, and yet no one ever answered. Many worried that after the initial test, the fact that the borehole existed would mean that further tests would be conducted there and previous consent would be taken as perpetual consent for tests.

    If you take the time to look at maps of areas in the US that are geologically acceptable, away from large urban zones, have transportation links, crystalline granite of the right type and within 2000m or less to surface, etc…. to meet the criteria for boreholes, you are left with eastern ND, the NE corner of SD, and the eastern bit of MN. If this type of disposal is found to be viable, this is exactly the area of the US that the waste will go. I have these maps if anyone wants them. And the waste we are talking about is specifically government/dept. of Defense waste, nothing at all from commercial sources, medical sources, or nuclear power plants. We are only talking about high level government weapons waste. Obama in a March 2014 speech outlined a new policy where the government would take care of the gov’s waste and the commercial sector would have to take care of their own waste, in light of the Yucca Mtn failure.

    The ND State Health Dept. Rep, Dave Glatt, told us that the governor told him not to go to our meeting or speak about the project.

    The state Geologist is on record at a public meeting saying that the Pierce Co. site is not where he would put it, yet that is where it went. He wanted to put it closer to Grand Forks, but there was no rail service.

    The governor and attorney general, who sit on the land board, denied any knowledge of the project in Jan 2016, yet they were included in an on site tour on Aug 27th, 2015, as well as a memo about it in their Sept 2015 meeting.

    The overall pattern of ND government officials never admitting how much they knew and when they knew was what killed the project. For instance, there were actually 3 sites in Pierce Co and 5 total in ND, none of which was disclosed until forced to admit as much. No one in the state trusted them to manage this well and everyone could see the $$ signs in their eyes.

    At the public meeting Andrew Griffith said that we were a viable location for actual storage. And one of the EERC members, John Harju, said that there are literally hundreds of geologically acceptable sites in ND for possible future waste storage. So I don’t think that concerns of future waste storage, in this case, were out of place.

    In the SD case, you have the advantage of this specific site being too close to water for actual storage. Battelle is being much smarter this time around and choosing a non-viable site in order to get the test done without scaring the locals. However, after the test is found successful, it opens it up for many locations in ND and SD to become viable storage locations.

    ND century code allows storage of nuclear waste in ND with only a vote from Bismarck, with no place for local citizens, counties, or municipalities to have the chance to weigh in on any aspect of the project. (Considering how fast Bismarck lined up this time to take the cash, we could be assured they would vote for waste if the price was right). I do not know what SD century code states on the issue. But going forward, this test will be done, and it will be found technologically feasible(We already have holes to 13,000 ft in western ND). Whether it is a scientifically sound idea is another question, the scientific community is highly divided on this one, the director of the NWTRB himself is not convinced for instance, while other countries have dropped this research. Other states, like Oregon, have issued letters to the DOE to register their displeasure with the borehole plan. But there is too much political will behind the idea of finding a new, safer, wonderful place to get rid of waste, and small states like our without much federal clout will be on the short list.

    What citizens need to prepare for is keeping their leaders responsible and truthful (unlike the ND elected officials in this case), so that when the DOE comes around in 5-15 yrs to place actual waste boreholes, that the locals who have to live with these things have the legal mechanism to get involved, give consent, perhaps help site the project, and mediate the consequences, both economic, environmental, and health & safety. It is more important than ever for counties to adopt land use policies that put pride of place on your traditional economic engines (grazing, production agriculture, etc…) so that when the DOE or other federal agency shows up the county has a legal mechanism to fight back, or at least mediate the consequences of any federal project. If the Federal Dept of Energy can go down the path of Consent Based Siting, so should the states.

  77. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-24 18:01

    Stephanie, At 22:24 yesterday, I asked Dr McTaggert, from where is this military waste coming? I am still confused on that. Can you shed any light on that question? Thanks, Lanny

  78. Stephanie 2016-04-24 18:38

    Here is a quick overview. Articles like this also did nothing to help the ND and DOE case that they were being open, transparent, and turning over a new leaf. The date on the article is Jan 7, no one in Pierce Co knew until Jan 15, and no permit had yet been applied for, though the tone of the article makes it sound all but final.

  79. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-24 19:36

    Hi Stephanie,

    As you see from the blog above I am trying to reply as much as I can, but I’m not perfect.

    My credentials are that I have a Ph.D. in Physics, and I studied in the area of particle physics. I teach nuclear engineering, health physics (a.k.a. radiation safety) and the nuclear laboratory classes at SDSU, and oversee the Minor in Nuclear Engineering. I participate with other state faculty on grants and research for underground physics at the Homestake Mine as well as the irradiation of materials for use in power plants or in outer space, and some studies of NORMs in the environment.

    Students in the NE minor have to complete either an internship or an undergraduate research project in an area of nuclear science or nuclear engineering, or engineering to support either area. The internship or co-op is helpful in finding employment with a 4-year degree.

    I have stated several times on this blog that in my opinion that a waste facility should not be located in an area that does not enjoy public consent. Period.

    Would you have an alternative solution to the waste problem that would replace the deep borehole disposal method? Launching everything into the Sun doesn’t count :^)….way too expensive.

    It is important to note that the life cycles of renewables produce waste too, just not often in the form of carbon. As they expand those wastes must be considered.

    I would rather have nuclear and renewables partner together to strengthen the others’ weaknesses, tackle global warming, and deal with some of the waste issues.

    Lanny, here is an article for you to read about the military waste associated with the production of plutonium from 2015.

  80. grudznick 2016-04-24 19:48

    It seems like Dr. McTaggart is among the highest qualified fellows to educate most of you on this blog and has joined the group of fellows who has bested you in debating at every turn. I, for one, welcome Dr. McTaggart and enjoy reading from him.

  81. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-24 19:53

    grudznick, You pompous prig. Are you saying that he has not educated you? That kind of figures. I always kind of figured that you thought that you already knew it all on any subject that is blogged by Cory.

  82. Porter Lansing 2016-04-24 19:55

    Bested who, Grudz. You seem to fancy yourself a blog “score keeper” when your understanding of the rules discounts your opinion, continually.

  83. Donald Pay 2016-04-24 20:11

    My opinion is the same as Stephanie’s. Every question or statement on point here is basically ignored by Dr. McTaggart. He admitted in an earlier blog that he had no specifics on the submission to DOE from South Dakota. Apparently he hasn’t bothered to find out any specifics since. About all he can do is bring in irrelevant and general comments about various nuclear programs and hope this b.s. sways the folks like Grudz, who spent the entire year on this blog pooh-poohing the fact that this project could come to South Dakota.

    Grudz believes what Grudz wants to believe, but the rest of us aren’t quite as gullible as good ole Grudz. We demand more the Dr. McTaggart’s pablum, and would like some specifics. Why can’t DOE and the State of South Dakota release everything they have relevant to this project, and give local and state folks a chance to consider it before any “open house?”

    Dr. McTaggart, I realize, is in a tough spot. His nuclear energy program is affiliated with institutions in Idaho, and they have connections to the Idaho Offices of the federal Department of Energy. The Idaho office of DOE has been handling this project, so that makes Dr. McTaggart more of an interested party than an independent scientist.

  84. grudznick 2016-04-24 20:29

    Messrs. Stricherz and Lansing. grudznick got your goat.

  85. Donald Pay 2016-04-24 20:33

    Stephanie’s point about consent is really important. South Dakota had statutes, enacted through an initiative in 1984, that provided for a statewide vote in order to site radioactive waste facility. Those statutes were enacted to provide an extra layer of protection to the already existing statute that gave the Governor the authority to say yes to a radioactive waste facility. The protections in the initiative was taken away by the legislature when they supposedly decided the initiative was “obsolete” in 1987.

    Governor Daugaard said three years ago that he wouldn’t approve a radioactive waste facility unless there was a vote of state citizens. Yet since then he has not provided for or described any ironclad statutory or Constitutional mechanism that would allow that statewide vote to occur. He has had three legislative sessions since then to propose a mechanism. Maybe the good Dr. McTaggart, who says he believes in “consent,” can suggest a mechanism for state citizens to vote on any proposal for a disposal site.

  86. Porter Lansing 2016-04-24 20:36

    You lost again, Grudz. Pat Powers doesn’t treat you very well, huh? You’re a gem of the Free Press and I for one enjoy your comments.

  87. Donald Pay 2016-04-24 20:50

    Stephanie’s point about officials in ND lying about what they knew and when they knew it is basically the same in South Dakota. SD elected officials have either been neck deep in this proposal, or they told the folks who were doing it to give them plausible deniability. They read this blog, and they know that I outed this project in May 2015. They didn’t utter a peep, and even administration sycophants like Troy shut up. Is it lying when a Governor just remains silent after one of his pet projects is outed. I guess Governor Daugaard took the 5th for nearly a year. The rest of the SD press, of course, was fast asleep. No surprise there. Thank God we have Cory around to get out the real story.

  88. Stephanie 2016-04-24 20:58

    My comments have never been about *not* studying this type of disposal method, nor launching it into the sun…? Perhaps you have me confused with someone else.

    My comments have all stemmed from lack of disclosure, proper handling of this specific project, assurance that future projects would actually follow the DOE’s consent based siting rules (which don’t exist yet), ND government officials actions, etc… These are the exact issues that you have not engaged with, and I understand that, because you have had no direct interest or experience with the ND siting of the project. So for now we are just talking past each other.

    For the DOE to get this project off the ground properly, they need to practice consent based siting and follow their own best practices, including their sub-contractors. Otherwise, they are repeating past mistakes and not at all changing the perception of the DOE as a top-down gov agency.

    I realize that for any type of progress to happen in the energy sector there must be science. I’m very pro-science,and most people in Rugby are as well, we have unfortunately been painted as a bunch of narrow minded rednecks who hate anything to do with science by Battelle and the EERC. More accurately we are, anti-Dept of Energy, not science. If you read the minutes of the Rugby meeting, most of the questions were directed to the DOE, not EERC/Battelle, because people don’t trust DOE money, and they didn’t trust the ND Land Board giving out 5 yr lease extensions after the initial testing without disclosing if that lease would be subject to the same provisions as the first lease term, namely no actual waste. Again, we got no answer, though this is more a failing of the ND administration than anyone else.

    The DOE has a long, long, long history of not cleaning up their existing messes, nor engaging in a positive way with local communities, or disclosing all information that would be pertinent to those making decisions about siting a project. This is why the NWTRB suggested that they begin consent-based siting now with this testing process, in order to begin to fix their reputation. It is a shame that they did not follow that recommendation, and went so far as the Sec of Energy going on record at a congressional hearing in late March to say that they didn’t need to and wouldn’t. Comments like that make it very hard to trust in a process that doesn’t exist yet and that they say they *will* follow when the time is right.

    As this process go forward I just hope that wherever the project goes the local community gets the assurances they need that no waste will ever be forced upon them because they are the lucky owners of a characterized and viable $80mil+ borehole. The broader problem is the consent based siting has a very low rate of success internationally, and the nuclear waste problem is large and pressing, which leaves the door open to eminent domain or state legislative action to site a project when the impatience or supply of waste grows to large, and the federal perks to the state are large enough.

    In reality, the SD site is perhaps the best because they have said it is not a viable waste site, saving this site from dealing with this in the future. Hopefully, they were trustworthy when they made that statement.

  89. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-24 21:14

    Dr McTaggert, here is the message I got when I tried to sign in to read the article that you cited in your comments at 19:36.

    We’re sorry!
    This special offer is no longer available, but we’d still love to have you as a member. Please click here to join AAAS today.

    If you have questions about AAAS membership or would like additional information about joining, please contact Member Services at or call 866-434-2227.

  90. grudznick 2016-04-24 21:42

    Yes, Ms. Stephanie, the South Dakota site is just about the science and practice, and maybe some mutant microbes will also be discovered as a side benefit. But nobody said it is likely that somebody is going to bury radioactive garbage out there east river.

  91. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-24 21:52

    There is a headline at this website on military nuclear waste. It says, “3 minutes to midnight.”

    Here are some of the numbers that this site show for military nuclear waste:

    More than 3 billion metric tons of uranium mining and milling wastes.
    More than 1 million cubic meters of transuranic radioactive wastes.
    Approximately 6 million cubic meters of low-level radioactive wastes.
    Approximately 4.7 billion cubic meters of contaminated soil and groundwater (according to an Energy Department document unavailable online).
    More than 10,000 radiation-contaminated structures such as uranium processing and enrichment plants, radiochemical processing and storage facilities and laboratories.
    About 100 million gallons of high-level radioactive wastes, considered among the most dangerous, left in aging tanks larger that most state capitol domes. More than a third of some 200 tanks have leaked and threaten groundwater and waterways such as the Columbia River.
    Areas contaminated by more than 1,054 nuclear weapons tests, 219 of which involved aboveground detonations. As of 1992, underground shots released about 300 million curies of radioactive materials at the Nevada Test Site—making it the most radioactively contaminated area in the United States. Areas in the Republic of the Marshall Islands remain uninhabitable from US aboveground tests in the 1940s and 1950s.
    More than 700,000 metric tons of excess nuclear weapons production materials, in addition to hundreds of tons of weapons-usable plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

    Dr McTaggert, I think that your comment yesterday at 22:44 may be a little bit off:
    “All of the nuclear waste that we have generated over 50+ years would fill a single football field, and not make it to the height of the goal posts. The end result of recycling would fit between the goal line and the five yard line.”

  92. Donald Pay 2016-04-24 22:14

    The Department of Energy has released studies where they conclude that NE South Dakota is a likely location for siting a deep borehole disposal facility. Of course, they have to do additional studies to locate exactly where they want to go, but that won’t be a problem once they think South Dakota is a sucker.

    I differ with Stephanie in this area: there are good reasons not to waste taxpayer money on studying deep borehole disposal. Many of those reasons were brought out in the meetings of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board meetings in October 2015. Independent scientists, as opposed to those in the DOE, seemed highly skeptical of the concept, and particularly thought this proposed study was extremely deficient. Even the Blue Ribbon Commission years earlier gave the concept a lukewarm reception. Moniz was the only backer, but he pushed it enough to get it into the final report. Unfortunately, he ended up as Energy Secretary, and he kept pushing for a fast track study of this wasteful project.

  93. Donald Pay 2016-04-24 22:31

    I also disagree with Stephanie on claiming the proposed test site is not a viable site, which protects SD from having the test site turned into a disposal site. South Dakota has seen a number of projects sited improperly. And here’s the kicker: there are no rules at this point for siting a deep borehole disposal site. They can say anything they want about it being “not viable,” and it means nothing. It could turn out later that this water isn’t a problem. Or they could claim a technical fix for it.

    They’ve put the cart before the horse. They need to do a lot of preliminary work before this test goes forward. First, they need to take all of the radioactive waste program out of the DOE and put it into an independent federal agency, as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission.

    Once that commission is set up, they need to deal with consent. This shouldn’t be dealt with by DOE.

    Third, the commission (not DOE) needs to write rules for siting a deep borehole disposal facility, and for testing the concept, if they still want to do it.

    Then they can come in an open and honest fashion and present their proposals. Until then, I wouldn’t trust the government in this matter. The DOE has lied too many times over too long a period to be trusted.

  94. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-25 10:20

    Hmmm….either DOE is not willing to clean up their messes, or the body politic opposes any such effort to clean up their messes, and then complains when they do not clean up their messes. How can they write the rules for a disposal facility without the research necessary to derive those rules? Can they ever show that it is safe enough?

    They live with the wastes every single day, plus there are other parts of their mission that they would rather spend their money on…so I do not think it is a matter of not wanting to do it. I think the problem of getting things disposed of is a little complicated when politics is involved.

    I concur with Mr. Pay that a secure, interim storage facility would be a terrific idea. But that will also need to go through the public consent process and face similar headwinds. The primary difference is that the waste could be removed from such a site to some other facility (permanent or temporary), whereas once it is disposed of by the deep borehole method, it is staying there. Geology is still a factor since they don’t want flooding or earthquakes nearby, but transportation and security issues become more prominent.

    The problem faced by solving our nuclear waste issues is often money. What can they do with the funds that are available? Although there is a lot of money from Congress, it is a big problem, so things are relatively underfunded despite the large budget numbers. Technically there are funds available that were collected from utilities that produced nuclear power (see the Nuclear Waste Policy Act), but I don’t think there is consensus on how to use those funds. Those would have been allocated to Yucca Mountain, but you know how that is going. We would find out how expensive it would be to do deep borehole disposal with this research proposed in South Dakota.

    Stephanie, if you followed the Blue Ribbon Commission hearings like I did and read the public input, there were some interesting alternatives for waste storage, of which the most expensive was sending things into the sun. I guess that would solve the problem, but present a whole new set of problems. I pose the question in the hope that instead of pure opposition that an alternative arises that is better. If it works scientifically and wins public consent, then it is better. If this method is the best we can do, then we need to address the issues standing in front of public consent. Other nations like China and France would also consider this method, which would isolate wastes from any rogue actors (and I don’t mean those guys in the Nissan Rogue commercials…).

    I seem to disappoint Mr. Pay and others because I do not hold the same opinions and I am not a lawyer. Therefore I must be part of the Nuclear Illuminati or something. I am not naive enough to believe that I will change anybody’s mind, but I hope I put some other things on the table for consideration, including the need to solve the problem.

    You should ask why this needs to be done, make sure that previous mistakes are not repeated, and consider the benefits along with the risks. It is a legitimate question to ask what would happen next after the research is done. Opinions and votes from non-scientists count the same as from scientists, but I hope I contribute to an informed vote, whether it is yes or no.

    DOE runs the Homestake Mine facility now called the Sanford Underground Research Facility, and I have received funding from the DOE Nuclear Engineering Universities Program. They also have a role in the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment, of which I am a member, but I am not receiving funding at the present time. The equipment in the SDSU nuclear lab that I can use to examine NORMs in the environment was paid for by such a grant. I have also had grants rejected by the same program, such as to study the effects of gamma irradiation on power cables that would reduce unwanted shutdowns of power plants, so the argument that I am in their pocket or I am favored in some way sort of falls flat.

    I am also working on a 3-2 program with Idaho State so that students who qualify would stay here for 3 years, there for 2 years, and receive a B.S. in Physics from SDSU and a M.S. in Nuclear Science and Engineering from ISU. That saves them a year off of the typical 4-2 program, and Idaho gets more employees with a nuclear background that they need. If we graduate 1-2 students per year in the program, that would be awesome.

    Lanny….sorry about the link. It may be that I get access to that automatically as a faculty member, and you don’t. The article is not dissimilar from the one that Stephanie provided.

  95. Francis Schaffer 2016-04-25 19:10

    Why aren’t any people from state government listed as being present? I would think a board which deals with water should be there.

  96. Donald Pay 2016-04-25 20:35

    Just to be clear, I am not in favor of consolidated interim storage. I think, unfortunately, there has to be on-site storage of waste until there is a permanent solution to disposing of that waste in a permanent repository. Consolidated interim storage just creates more sites where things can go wrong. It creates more transportation and handling of dangerous wastes and increases the risk that a large-scale accident will occur. It doesn’t result in reducing risk. It only increases it.

  97. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-25 21:43

    I would’ve thought it would have worked the other way, that you have fewer centralized storage sites and remove the waste from the many others. The number of such sites would be far fewer than the number of power plants and national laboratories and military sites that store waste today.

    Such a facility could be designed to enhance security as well. Yes you would have to figure out transportation issues, but that can be done.

    For commercial wastes, I prefer to do something with recycling (reprocessing) first. We would reduce the amount of mining that is necessary as well as the amount that needs to be isolated either temporarily or permanently. Could be located next to or part of a temporary storage facility to reduce transportation issues.

  98. grudznick 2016-04-25 22:47

    How thick of a lead box can hold this stuff? Could it be buried at Homestake in one of the tunnels that isn’t used for neutrino studying? I have heard there are hundreds of tunnels. I think my friend Mr. Pay is way smart enough to have proposed this if it would work but I might have missed that idea. Bury it really deep in Homestake and put crushed car bodies and melt other things over the top. Why dig new holes?

  99. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-26 10:40


    Homestake is a terrific location to study ultra-rare physics phemonena like neutrinos and dark matter because the miles of rock can shield most of the cosmic rays that produce too much interference at the surface. It is a signal-to-noise game, and since we can’t change the signal, we are left with reducing the noise. For example, copper that is purified below ground does not get activated at the surface, which would produce unwanted statistical noise, and this purification removes the naturally-occurring radioisotopes from uranium, thorium, and potassium that exist at tiny levels in all things (including you and me). Copper shielding augments the shielding provided by the rock.

    While there is the volume at Homestake, and the rock would provide an awesome radiation shield, it is completely unsuitable as any kind of nuclear waste facility. There is too much water that they have to pump out already. They spend millions of dollars per year just pumping out water, and as noted earlier in this blog, water is not the friend of a nuclear waste facility.

    However, Homestake could support various other nuclear-related interests. All nuclear activity ends up producing neutrinos, and Homestake neutrino experiments could be able to characterize underground testing by North Korea (for example), or monitor the health of other reactors. Earthquake monitors underground may complement the detection of underground testing. Low background facilities would be able to detect ultra-low levels of radionuclides, which would be important for air/water/soil analyses used in nuclear forensics. New detector technologies may enhance medical imaging so that less dose is necessary to achieve the same clarity.

    I have always thought that Homestake would be a good place to study low dose radiation biology due to all of the shielding and the low background facilities that have the clean rooms and filtration systems that remove Radon and its progeny. That would test the validity of the linear, no-threshold hypothesis at the lowest doses. The biggest beneficiaries may be nuclear workers, commercial or military pilots, and recipients of radiation therapy, particularly if the hormesis theory better fits the data. The infrastructure for doing those kind of studies is progressively getting better, but funding low dose radiation biology in the current budget environment would be a challenge.

  100. Donald Pay 2016-04-26 10:53

    No. In the time frame they are talking about, you would have consolidated storage, but still have to have storage on-site at the nuclear plants. Consolidated storage is just a marketing ploy to make folks think the radioactive waste problem is going away. I’m sure it relieves the nuclear industry of some risk by socializing that risk, but the risk actually increases.

  101. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-26 11:08

    Lead is a terrific shield for some types of radiation, like gamma rays. So in a nuclear lab or a medical physics facility, they are going to use lead because they don’t need a whole lot, and it gets the job done.

    Anything will work as a shield, but the question comes down to how much would you need and how expensive is it. Bulk applications at a nuclear facility will use either earth or concrete for shielding instead of lead because those are easier and cheaper to use.

    For particle physics, shielding can also serve as a “veto” to help distinguish noise from signal. Particles from noise events that travel faster than the speed of light in a water shield will generate a blue light called Cherenkov radiation (sort of a “light boom” instead of a sonic boom).

  102. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-04-26 11:09

    Dr McTaggert, You don’t have to tell that to grudznick, he already knew all that, but thanks for educating the rest of us.

  103. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-26 11:35

    I agree that one would still have on-site storage to allow the spent fuel to cool in a giant water bath. After the heat has dissipated a bit, those spent fuel rods could be simply transferred to the consolidated facility instead of placed on-site in concrete casks. That would reduce some risk at the power plants as well as the costs for storage.

    Probably some independent body would operate such a facility, but they would need funds to operate. That has yet to be worked out. Either that comes from the utilities or the government or both, but ultimately the consumer pays. We all have an interest in reducing risks particularly when we receive the benefits of 24/7 clean energy.

    To be fair, we don’t know the full costs associated with a consolidated storage facility yet, since one has not been licensed, approved, sited, and built…that sausage making is in its infancy. But if it saves money for all the stakeholders, works better, and enhances safety and security, then consolidated storage should be considered.

    The site would likely have additional land space for security reasons, and may even be isolated or off the grid, so why not put up solar cells or wind turbines or geothermal or mini-hydro to help run the facility. There could be something in it for everybody.

  104. leslie 2016-04-26 12:10

    sounds like the homestake hole is an illegal well. denr could take action for waste of drinking water.

  105. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-26 12:10

    Sorry Lanny, once the public education train leaves the station, it tends to pick up some steam :^).

  106. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-26 12:14


    They have water quality protections at Homestake. They clean the water and monitor what is released. There are some standards that they have to meet in order to operate as a lab.

  107. Donald Pay 2016-04-26 14:47

    This document is from the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, a group of scientists and engineers who serve as an independent peer review agency for aspects of the Department of Energy’s nuclear waste programs. The NWTRB has been very skeptical of the DOE’s deep borehole program, but has recommended a number of measures that would significantly improve any study. So far I have not been able to find that DOE responded to these recommendations. DOE should be asked how, specifically, they intend to address NWTRB’s ideas.

  108. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-26 17:12

    That is an interesting document.

    “The Board recommends that DOE use the Deep Borehole Field Test to gain experience related to its siting approach. DOE should begin to incorporate new standards of transparency and data access, and should explore avenues to engage stakeholders.”

    Overall the board wants to see a good plan for the field test that takes into account the site complexity and the operational aspects, and they also desire a thorough site characterization. At the end of the day the test needs to show that deep borehole disposal offers advantages for at least certain types of waste forms over geologic disposal (i.e. the Yucca Mountain approach).

  109. Donald Pay 2016-04-26 20:50

    Better read the whole document. Better yet, listen to the webcast of the meetings upon which the document is based. Go back and read other documents from the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board on deep borehole disposal. This board of independent scientists is very, very skeptical of the project.

    The Board in its January 2016 report made devastating suggestions that DOE has no intention of carrying out, because to do so would require DOE to go back to square one to devise a scientific study, rather than a quick and dirty public relations effort.

    Exhibit A is the quote you have extracted from the report. The Board suggested incorporating new standards of transparency and data access. DOE has, to date, refused to implement that. It has not conducted itself in transparent way. It has denied and continues to deny access to critical information on this project, including all the submissions responding to DOE’s RFP. It has refused to engage stakeholders in any meaningful way. Oh, it will engage in a pubic relations meeting, but they will not disclose any much, if any, information. Really, though, the time for transparency has come and gone. That really should have been done prior to the RFP process. Now all they want to do is bamboozle folks, get a quick “OK” from the Governor and some local officials, and claim they were “transparent.”

  110. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-27 11:04

    Mr. Pay,

    We read the same document, but come to much different conclusions. Scientists on this panel get paid to be very skeptical, and when it comes to safety, that skepticism comes in abundance. They are not paid to be opponents or proponents, but to provide a detailed technical review.

    There are technical details to work out. There will be other questions that come up along the way. To solve big problems you have to practice problem solving. So my interest in having the research move forward only increases with this report.

    Besides public consent, there are two primary issues. Even though there is nothing radiological at all, procedures should be put in place for operations to work as if radiological material were there (after all, this is a test for the real thing). I think the other is that they would like to see more evidence regarding the viability of their defense-in-depth approach. But they need to do the research in order to obtain that information.

  111. Robert McTaggart 2016-04-27 11:22

    I will agree with you that the consent-based approaches and efforts for transparency should occur on a regular basis before, during, and after the research is done. It shouldn’t be a one-and-done with this initial set of open forums. People will be interested in both the challenges involved and how they address them, as well as answers to the questions they come up with.

  112. Donald Pay 2016-04-27 17:14

    I came away with the nearly same conclusion as the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board: the test of the deep borehole disposal concept as proposed by the Department of Energy and as outlined in the RFP is slipshod. The Review Board suggested numerous ways to make the test actually be a real “science project.” DOE is ignoring those suggestions.

    I’m sure there’s quite a bit of friction between the independent scientists and DOE. The NWTRB spent several years trying to warn off DOE from this test, and making their feelings known to leaders in Congress. But this is really a Moniz and Obama priority, for some odd reason, and they are intent of pursuing it. I’ve called it the Obama Disposal System (ODS, or “odious” for short). So, even though independent scientists are opposed, once again political mischief is involved in shoving this test through, just as political mischief gave us Yucca Mountain in 1987.

    So, we’ll probably get this boondoggle, hopefully not in South Dakota, because it is likely to be a 40 year fight to get rid of it.

  113. Donald Pay 2016-04-27 17:23

    So, if we agree on consent, that’s not the end of the discussion. Let’s understand who consents, what the process is, etc. None of this is spelled out, and, really, the Blue Ribbon Commission envisioned that DOE would not be the agency filling out what “consent” means, and it certainly didn’t think any agency should half-ass the idea of consent as it was getting ready to stick a state with a project like this.

    Be that as it may, DOE is going ahead in spite of the clear direction of the Blue Ribbon Commission. I would say consent can start with DOE disclosing all information it has, including the RFP submitted by the South Dakota proposers and by Battelle, and any records since. Full disclosure is required for consent.

  114. leo van de vate 2016-05-04 06:43

    there is no real solution for definite disposal of radwaste. There is always a risk that radionuclides come into the biosphere after a long period of migration. We have to search for the least bad solution. Geological isolation is near to that. But the deeper the better.
    In the Netherlands we are studying the salt- and clay mine disposal at about 500 – 800 m depth. And for the near future an attractive alternative, the deep borehole disposal (-5000 m). Because we have a modest volume of reprocessed waste melted in a borosilicate-glass matrix. This glass (like vitrified lava) is especially fabricated for geological disposal.
    Everything is better than storage at the surface for hundreds of years. That is asking for problems

  115. leslie 2016-05-20 08:42

    Doc, quantity-wise, it is illegal to poke a hole in the earth’s crust and waste water that is produced. Sanford has forced the public to pay to pump that sucker (homestake hole we purchased after they took all the gold) for decades now. is lead drinking that and how much does the northern hills pay to drink homestake”s monopolized water?

    I don’t know about quality.

  116. Robert McTaggart 2016-05-20 08:57

    They do have to treat any water that they pump out, so I am pretty sure they monitor anything they take out or discharge.

    I am not sure who would be cleaning up the water if Sanford were not there. Probably the original mining company would still have ownership. So nobody is forcing Homestake to be pumped out, but if you don’t pump out Homestake, then the noble prize contending physics experiments cannot be sited. Lead is certainly benefiting from all of the research activity and researchers from all over the globe visiting the lab.

  117. leslie 2016-05-20 09:09

    I maintain it is an illegal well wasting precious underground water resources. is it transported directly to oahe for storage? I think so. it flows over arsenic contaminated tailings all the way to the reservoir. what does it cost to pump and clean it? what does lead do for municipal water when homestake decides to sell it to a higher bidder? maybe buy brohm’s acid water? yum. who do you think owns the deep water? homestake.

  118. Robert McTaggart 2016-05-20 09:34

    If they were not there pursuing physics, the water would not be treated the same way as it is today. All of the equipment was updated in order for them to operate as a research facility.

    Here are a couple of sites regarding their environmental practices from their website…I am not sure who owns what with regard to water in and around Lead. DENR probably has some oversight in this.

  119. leslie 2016-05-20 09:52

    homestake. monopoly. SDWMB, 1990s, homestake water adjudication, DENR file. ask lobbyist Margie or the other homestake lobbyist guy. they sit on a bunch of daugaard’s boards. there is a tech prof., too, kenner I think, that got into the game sometime later that might know the quality aspects if still around. one rancher, trask, I think, on elk creek, stood up to homestake. the state gave ’em nearly everything they could grab. as someone said, the state is too little to defend our resources. another way of saying it is republican Regents are in bed with big money.

  120. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-05-20 10:07

    leslie, on another thread you said at 8:30 that you had to fly in a few minutes. Did they cancel your flight?

  121. Robert McTaggart 2016-05-20 10:30

    Where is the solar-powered and wind-powered facility that continually cleans the water? If solar and wind are supposedly good enough to power high-speed rail (another thread), you would think it could handle providing clean water.

    Processing water when solar and wind are available would actually be a good use of renewables, since you wouldn’t have to worry about intermittency. The problem then becomes storing large quantities of water and disrupting ecosystems that rely upon said water, so initially I would simply process the water I could when the energy is available. That would be a half a loaf, but better than no loaf.

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