Borehole Project Mostly Dead in Spink County: Commissioners to Pen Opposition Letter

If the U.S. Department of Energy is serious about “consent-based siting,” then it will be taking the Deep Borehole Field Test someplace other than Spink County, South Dakota. Meeting yesterday in Redfield, the Spink County Commission conceded that public support for the engineering experiment is virtually non-existent:

Commissioner Cindy Schultz said she’s had many people contact her and urge her to vote against allowing the deep borehole drilling.

“Not one person has contacted me asking me to vote for it,” said Schultz, before fellow Commissioner Jeff Albrecht asked her if she had heard from Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

“Excuse me, there was one,” Schultz replied.

Jeff Albrecht said he also has had many calls from people expressing opposition.

“I have had four people that voiced an opinion to me that this project should go forward,” Jeff Albrecht said. “One of them is the governor, and one of them is the president of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (Heather Wilson). But I’ve had well over 100 people call or write letters or stop me on the street and say this is not something that we want in our county. It is representational government, and so I can’t foresee my vote for the project in any way, shape or form” [Shannon Marvel, “Spink County Commissioners to Sign Letter Opposing Borehole Drilling Project,” Aberdeen American News, 2016.06.10].

Mines president Heather Wilson may have pull with federal contractor friends and partners in illegal lobbying, but not with Spink County’s elected officials. They are more inclined to listen to the thousands Spink County residents who former Governor Harvey Wollmann told them have signed letters of opposition to the project, which is supposed to test the feasibility of drilling three-mile-deep holes and depositing military nuclear waste in bedrock. The commission decided to compose a formal letter, presumably to the Department of Energy and lead Borehole contractor Battelle, stating four of five commissioners oppose the project. Neither DOE nor Battelle have filed any application with the county yet, but the four-out-of-five opposition indicates no such application would pass.

The Deep Borehole Field Test will only test the drilling and deposit non-nuclear test canisters; even if this experiment succeeds, the Department of Energy says local aquifers make Spink County unsuitable for nuclear waste disposal. However, belief that the feds and the School of Mines and Governor Daugaard are lying and that the Borehole would bring nuclear waste to Spink County is outweighing promises of $1 million in local economic stimulus from drilling activities and 50 to 60 on-site workers.

Essentially, Spink County is telling Battelle to buzz off and take the Deep Borehole Field Test elsewhere. Is there any chance Battelle and the feds would find a warmer reception in another South Dakota county atop that good granite bedrock, or will they move on from South Dakota as they left North Dakota after one rejection there last winter and seek open arms and deep rock in previous bidders South Carolina or Texas?

77 Responses to Borehole Project Mostly Dead in Spink County: Commissioners to Pen Opposition Letter

  1. thank you, well written article.

  2. mike from iowa

    Wonder if Daugaard will circumvent the will of the people-in the interest of science and a million bucks?

  3. I, for one, hope they dig The Borehole in secret in the dead of the night. #4Science

  4. mike from iowa

    What are you angling for, Grudz? Gravy taters that glow in the dark?

  5. Paul Seamans

    I would say that in this round that Gov. Daugaard got one shoved up into his borehole.

  6. Donald Pay

    Wow. Wow. I read this, and I just couldn’t believe it. I am such a pessimist. I thought this project was going to go through. Here’s the lesson to me, a lesson I once knew, but had forgotten: never, ever underestimate the smarts and the will of the grassroots people of South Dakota.

  7. Donald, we should be very interested in the fact that a South Dakota community is rejecting big money on environmental concerns. We should study this incident closely to see if there are any extrapolable lessons for other campaigns.

  8. This probably means there are a lot of Reynolds wrap hats in Frankfort. And the people there are scared of science. And that most libbies, many numbering in the dozens, are against exploration and learning if it doesn’t fit their 6000 year old earth worldview.

  9. Donald Pay

    One of the things that always impressed me about South Dakotans is that it is not that they reject something, but they embrace what they have. It’s a conservative trait, really, the kind of conservatism that progressives can learn from. It’s one of the endearing things about South Dakotans—whether they are liberal or conservative, even when they fight among themselves about all sorts of things, they can come together to embrace what they have.

    Some other thoughts: I think most people realize the big money would be going out of state, and that what they risked was not worth it. I think a lack of trust in government promises also played into it. And I think the secrecy over 5 or so years, and then springing it on the community at the last minute must have generated skepticism.

    I don’t think people in Spink County have tin foil hats, Grudz. Probably some of them have seed hats. Maybe there’s a cowboy hat here and there. Whether you believe in a 6000 year old earth or a 4.5 billion year old earth, people can unite in common interest.

  10. Robert McTaggart

    “Whether you believe in a 6000 year old earth or a 4.5 billion year old earth, people can unite in common interest.”

    Like voting for Hillary…

  11. geez, doc, glad to know you care!! thank you for adding science to our great blog!

    btw, rosie news cory, but regents, heather and daugaard have money to make and voters who follow so i’ll believe this when its really gone. rounds still wants to get rid of epa and who knows what kristie and john want besides photo ops.

  12. Mr. Pay, science shows the earth is older than 6,000 years. Science also shows that The Borehole is perfectly safe outside of a chance that some bacteria could mutate and climb out; roughly the same chance as a bowling ball falling out of a helo over your neighborhood. Disturbing, yes, but mostly unlikely.

  13. I would be a little bit skeptical. SO much invested into this for them to just walk away. Keep your eyes on the conditional use permits. If they want to drill the well they have to get one.

    The problem isnt the well. Its short sighted to say that. The problem is the intended use of it – to store high level nuclear waste. As of right now its currently illegal to transport high level nuclear waste. The issue is getting the high level nuclear waste to the borehole from a reactor. Knowing the state of crony statism going on in america right now i do not trust any entity to do that job safely.

  14. Robert McTaggart

    I note that a self-sampling of 4 out of 5 from the loudest voices is not the same as a randomized scientific poll or an actual anonymous vote. So it is unclear how that is a success of a consent-based process when no vote has occurred or no motion has been considered yet. But people can have all the facts and still vote using whatever rationale suits them…that’s how voting works.

    I would say it would be more accurate to say that the state has not approved the receipt of any high level nuclear waste for permanent or temporary storage (which would require a public vote). Please note that Battelle would pay for a 3rd party to make sure that no radioactive waste comes to the site.

    The larger problem is really what comes next after the drilling, because the holes will be filled with dirt/concrete. The big picture is that the United States is not the only nation that would benefit from deep borehole storage. SD would have a leg up on becoming the experts in that global game, so we should be talking in terms of manufacturing and consulting that is based in SD. Can some of that be based in Spink County?

  15. Now, Robert, the consent-based siting wouldn’t be based on anything more scientific than a vote, would it? No scientific poll was conducted in Rugby, ND—the Pierce County Commission just said no. DOE and Battelle won’t respond to a negative commission vote or a negative referendum vote with a scientific poll and say, “Our numbers show that a majority really does support the Borehole, so here we come”, would they?

    The Spink County Commission is saying four of five members are clearly against it. Their opposition comes from what they claim is strong public opposition. I haven’t heard of any mobs storming the courthouse in Redfield to protest that announcement as running counter to the real community sentiment. That’s not exactly a complete consent-based siting process, but it seems to accurate reflect that consent is not available in Redfield.

  16. Daleb, I don’t think DOE and Battelle have invested any more in Spink County than they did in Pierce County, ND, before the commission kicked them out. I don’t think there’s any more cause for suspicion here than there was up north.

  17. Gentlemen and Ladies, you keep looking past the facts about The Borehole. It is not for nuclear waste.

  18. grudznick
    It was the frothing at the mouth and perturbing fangs of the Govenor, SD mines president and her cronies, looming in the background, that also made folk a bit skeptical and the fact that the water was going to be “messed with”

    “It is not for nuclear waste” ? Pardon, but it is, oh and $, a lot of $$$

  19. Robert McTaggart


    I guess I am making a similar argument that Bernie Sanders has been making with regard to delegates. No votes have been taken yet. There has been nothing for the commission to vote on yet.

    I concede that politics often works so that votes are not taken and decisions made unless there is a good chance of success…or there is no other choice. Plus politicians like being elected by the public for some strange reason (isn’t that right Cory ;^) ), and the county commissioners who receive the current public input are no different.

    But I would think the county needs to at least accept a permit application before any action or statement, as consent-based decisions need to be fact-based. What decisions they make based upon those facts is up to them. Good practice for any decision, not just this one.

    It is clear that if there were actual waste storage being considered, there would definitely be a public vote regardless of what is on the books right now….no vote is in the works.

    Any boreholes drilled in Spink County will not be for nuclear waste. Battelle will pay a 3rd party (I think that the county could select) that will assure nothing is brought into the county. The purpose is to test the practices in the simplest geology possible that would be used for storing a specific type of military waste elsewhere (most likely closer to where the waste is now to reduce transportation issues).

  20. Donald Pay

    Dr. McTaggart’s spin makes me laugh, except it is dangerous. It appears the few proponents of this project want to try to intimidate people into accepting the government’s line.

    DOE has been working on this borehole proposal for over a year behind the scenes, yet they haven’t bothered to do the very basic work of developing the necessary fact base to obtain local and state government approvals. They seem to want approvals before they submit an application.

    I notice, of course, that the Governor has nodded his head up and down, despite there being no permit approvals from any state regulatory agency. Isn’t the Governor approving this based on the same zero fact-base that the local units of government are rejecting it on? Why would the Governor do that?

    I might be so bold as to suggest that what DOE is trying to do is not present the facts until they have a local and state government ready to roll over and give them anything they want. Why else did they withhold information on the project for nearly a year?

    Besides, I believe the citizens of Spink County and their elected representatives have done fact gathering on their own and come to rational conclusions. Dr. McTaggart has a case of sour grapes.

  21. Be careful Mr. Pay, a debater like Dr. McTaggert will spin it further to make is seem like it is all about him. What I think is cool is that the local folks there in Spink County know ag very well and by that, they are clear with what bull puckey is to what the facts are. Common sense facts win out again! Good for the people there. No Nukes, Evah!

  22. Robert McTaggart

    I love grape juice in the morning ;^). I just think this would be a lost opportunity to investigate making nuclear waste storage safer.

    I doubt the opponents could live with a result of a consent-based process that favored the proponents. But I would agree with you that it is unclear exactly what a consent-based process should look like. We are in the middle of it…and you are shocked that politics is happening?

    I would agree that there isn’t much clarity regarding what long-term benefits there are for SD and Spink County after the holes are plugged up. That’s why things like manufacturing or consulting for this approach (or its application to geothermal or carbon capture) could be something that is sustainable.

  23. Paul Seamans

    Dr. Lance. Roberts, Dept Head Mining Engineering and Management, SDSM&T, had an oped in yesterday’s Mitchell Republic. Of course Dr. Roberts is for the exploratory drilling. The part of the oped that I found interesting is that Dr. Roberts admitted that a borehole near Ft Pierre and two boreholes in the road ditch along Hwy 183 south of Presho were, in fact, holes drilled into the Pierre Shale to determine the feasibility of storing low level nuclear waste in the Pierre Shale.

    Dennis Daugaard has tried to keep this on the low down. Finally, someone in the know admits to something that we had suspected. Is it any wonder that we don’t trust our fearless leaders when they tell us not to worry about nuclear waste being brought into the state.

    Again, I want to thank Donald Pay and Cory for keeping us informed. There are threats to our drinking water from so many different directions. Nuclear waste storage and uranium mining are the worst. I may be able to clean hog poop from my water. How do I remove uranium contamination from my water? I can probably survive without knowing the geological structure three miles below my feet if I have to. Maybe nice to know but it is not something that I think about everyday.

  24. Robert McTaggart

    Does agriculture release naturally-occurring uranium into the environment?

    ” Our data indicate that nitrate concentrations near the MCL are correlated to groundwater U contamination. Thus, nitrate-mediated U solubilization presents a threat to the quality of groundwater resources already under pressure because of population growth and global environmental change.(32) This has the potential to negatively impact the health of millions of residents in the United States and around the world utilizing U-contaminated drinking water. Additionally, irrigation accounts for an estimated 43% of global groundwater use.(33) Food crops irrigated with contaminated water have been demonstrated to accumulate U,(34, 35) thus leading to an additional route of U exposure through food crops. Given the ubiquitous nature of nitrate in aquifers and the strong correlation with U mobilization, increased testing of groundwater for U where nitrate is at or near the MCL should be conducted.”

  25. That is why you must continue to have grape juice in the morning, like the fermented kind from California. These kinds of grapes can help you forget the sting and allow the great people of Spink County to continue their forward thinking away from all things nuke. I hear that Nevada may be a better place for your project, take Heather be thy name with you on that road trip as well as our own Dennis the menace.

  26. Paul Seamans

    Thanks for the link Robert McTaggart. I agree that farming activities are responsible for a lot of the degradation of our water quality. This must be stopped.

  27. Robert McTaggart

    As an aside, I think there actually are varieties of grape that could grow in Spink County. But it probably wouldn’t be cheap.

  28. John Wrede

    This scenario along with the Powertech facade, Pennington County’s Commission’s rejection of an expanded gravel mining permit along Hiway 16 south of Rapid City, Lawrence County voters overwhelming opposition to expanded gravel mining operation in the Centennial Valley, the failed exploratory deep oil wells near Wasta, and yet another “heavy metals” mine rejection north of Sundance reminds me of “The Lone Tree” landfill project south of Edgemont years back. Our political leaders and economic development theorists bought that idea lock stock and barrel and even passed legislation which was overturned by referendum. It cost the state a few million in breach of contract but that is OK………I’m convinced that conservative politics has no long term memory and no mental acuity when it comes to conservation of resources and environmental integrity. Even though our political leadership insists that they have a sensitive finger on the public pulse, they have always tried to market their good deals on the public rather than pay attention to the nerve endings in their fingers…… This isn’t a whole lot different than Mickelson’s CAFO brilliance. When are we going to start electing people that will weigh the environmental consequences, clean up expense and quality of life conflicts of these natural resource exploitation proposals with their perceived economic development nonsense. The taxpayer and the hoi polloi are the ones that take it in the shorts every time. The conservative mantra that promotes the “keeping up with the Jone’s” theory is offensive to say nothing of short sighted and noxious of the public trust.

  29. Robert McTaggart


    Ironically, if there were ever a nuclear waste facility here in SD, agriculture and coal burning would release far more uranium than the waste facility would into the environment. The uranium released by the former processes would simply be much more diffuse. But I don’t think Jerry is going to recommend an end to agriculture in SD for trace amounts of uranium.

  30. Robert McTaggart


    Part of this “consent-based” kind of process should include transparency of information (I should say dissemination of correct information, as things do need to be checked and re-checked). In other threads on this blog I have advocated that environmental monitoring play a key role in any activity in Spink County. Data would show explicitly that no radioactive waste is ever present.

  31. Donald Pay

    That’s an interesting study, Dr. McTaggart. When I worked for the Technical Information Project, we did several projects looking at uranium levels in well water on several Indian reservations. In Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota, certain uranium deposits are contained with certain types of coal deposits. In fact the way they used to process some uranium deposits is to mine the coal and burn it, then process the ash for uranium. That may have been true in some of the Harding County, SD, deposits.

    The uranium contained in shallow aquifers is not likely to be much elevated in radioactivity, so it doesn’t present much of a problem from that aspect, but once uranium levels get to certain levels in drinking water, it can present a hazard to kidneys.

    Now the nitrate correlation is interesting to me because munitions also contain and/or break down into nitrates, and parts of the Pine Ridge Reservation were used as a bombing range. I seem to remember there was elevated uranium levels in some wells on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Could the degradation products from the bombing range munitions have caused the elevated uranium levels? Did the bombing range finally get cleaned up?

  32. Robert McTaggart

    The combustion of coal concentrates some elements in the fly ash beyond what occurs naturally in the coal deposit. Many of these would help wind power, battery storage, and solar energy. Others would be helpful for control rods in nuclear power plants, and there is thorium and uranium in there.

    But alas all of those exist at low levels (several ppm), and typically strong acids are used to do the processing. So we need better green methodologies to extract “critical elements” from sources like fly ash or water supplies. Then you could get rid of the uranium in the production of electricity, and not have to mine as much. You would still need to deal with the waste however.

  33. John Wrede

    Well Dr. McTaggart; having designed an environmental monitoring protocol a time or two and done a considerable amount of water quality monitoring as well as wildlife population and vegetation monitoring over the course of close to 40 years; I have yet to see proponents and investors of any politically driven project or idea pay any attention to the results of scientific monitoring….. If they did, we wouldn’t have many of the environmental issues we have. Would we have “Flint Michigan”if the political machinery had heeded the monitoring? Would we have contaminated water in wells near Pavillion, Wyoming or in PA if industry had paid attention to monitoring protocols…….. Would we have over 130 bodies of water in South Dakota that are e-coli and contaminant compromised if well designed, repetitive, consistent and statistically viable monitoring protocols stimulated corrective action?
    Monitoring is only as effective as politicians allow it to be and right now, it’s not effective….. Given that, precisely why should anyone trust the science and engineering community to do anything.

  34. Robert McTaggart

    As you well know, the collection and analysis of the data and what people choose to do with it are two different stories. If one is interested in recognizing and solving problems, then you need accurate data and the will to fix the problem when it shows up in the analysis.

    Generally I don’t think funding at the state, federal, or local levels is adequate to fund all of the science and engineering that is necessary to detect and remediate problems.

  35. Douglas Wiken

    I find it hard to believe that drilling holes thousands of feet deep to dump radioactive waste into them makes any economic or environmental sense.

    I drove past that rig drilling south of Presho perhaps a dozen times. They kept those drills going for a long time. I had no clue what the digging was about and there sure were no signs up telling anybody what was going on.

    We probably won’t have to worry about storing the waste for an eternity because if we don’t shift to wind, solar, and hydro soon, we or our children or grandchildren won’t be living on earth a whole lot longer.

  36. mike from iowa

    Some people want to solve our problems and the other half is more interested in creating problems.

  37. Nothing lost to the state of South Dakota by giving the ol bore hole the boot. Time for something sensible to bring money to the state, like Medicaid Expansion for our working poor. That makes more sense than drilling a boondoggle project in a cornfield. Dr. Rob, you and that Heather are gonna have to just pound sand to see how hard it gets.

  38. Robert McTaggart


    It doesn’t make much economic sense to me to throw away 90% of the original energy that remains in the waste from the once-through nuclear cycle, nor environmental sense because we have to do more mining as a result.

    The isolation of the military wastes would save some money by avoiding on-going costs associated with storing and securing them on the surface.

    Let’s do more solar and wind. However more natural gas plants to compensate for the intermittency of renewables will emit a lot more methane and carbon dioxide than the nuclear plants they would replace. Unfortunately, the small reactors that are cheaper to build while providing some load-following capacity to work with renewables are not ready yet.

    Just wait until 1 billion folks in Asia and Africa buy air conditioners, refrigerators, and televisions and power them with coal. Or wait until we have several million electric cars that are recharged by natural gas. Then measure the carbon levels and see if nuclear is a good idea.

  39. Robert McTaggart


    Medicaid expansion is fine, but if you are really concerned about the working poor, then you should retrofit homes so that they can mitigate Radon. Those that smoke in a home with a high Radon level have it worse, since Radon will cling to the smoke particles. Then you may reduce the need to use Medicaid.

  40. In Edgemont, they smoke more than many and have radioactive dirt piled as backfill around their foundations. They could only wish for The Borehole because it is only #4Science.

  41. Robert McTaggart

    Some can only dream about the borehole. Grudznick is already there…..It is a pretty tight fit, so there isn’t room for anybody else….

    Radon and its progeny (the elements that are produced by the chain of decays after Radon) emit high energy alpha particles. Alpha particles are ionized helium atoms. They can be stopped by paper or skin, but when we inhale Radon, we lose the protection that our skin affords us.

  42. Medicaid Expansion would do more good and bring the state one helluva lot more money that a hole in the ground.

  43. Robert McTaggart

    Medicaid expansion would benefit the public. Reducing Radon exposures would benefit the public. Research to help make the storage of these military nuclear wastes safer would benefit the public. Every bit of good that is done helps.

  44. Nope, your plan is terrible. It will benefit the few and that is why the governor, Heather and you are interested in it. This does not take to much thinking to realize the people do now want it. You and I can cuss and discuss this for as long as you get paid to do it. The more you figure ways of storing military nukes, the more they will think of making more. Spink County says no, so it is off with you and yours to some other playground.

  45. Robert McTaggart

    Let me get this straight…you are now going to pay me to continue these discussions??? Wow!

  46. No wonder you cannot seem to grasp the fact that no one wants your hole in the ground except you, the governor and of course Heather. You three amigos only want paid for trying to put this pressure cooker in the middle of Spink County. As a taxpayer, I have paid you enough for this nonsense. There are plenty of places to go play treasure hunt in that have already dug one of these pits.

  47. Robert McTaggart

    Aha. So by opposing the storage of military nuclear wastes that have already been produced, you hope to prevent the production of more nuclear weapons. Interesting theory.

  48. Robert McTaggart

    You seem to forget that the research is being done to study the process. It may turn out that they cannot drill a straight enough hole and they will abandon the method altogether for a Yucca Mountain style of storage. Retrievability is also an issue. So there are reasons for opponents to approve of the research, particularly if it generates a desired result.

  49. Robert McTaggart

    And sorry, it is not my borehole. SDSMT researchers and students would be the primary beneficiaries. I do support the research to investigate safer methods of nuclear waste storage.

    You’d think the President and the Governor would at least buy me lunch if we were really the three amigos :^).

  50. Researchers would be paid to handsomely to find ways to stick nukes in the ground at your borehole. Students would just be the worker bees on the project. The military would be humming and churning out more and more nukes to stockpile on the more and more nukes that will be necessary to destroy yet another 100 times over. Thankfully the people just said NO to the madness and that will be that. Sanford has a deep ol mine up there in Lead, South Dakota, that we paid a lot of tax dollars for, research the hell out of it.

  51. Landfills were done to study the problem of what to do with waste. Researchers still to this day work on ways to get rid of that waste. We recycle it and we have found ways to make use of it. They even put it on barges and set them free into the oceans to get rid of it, much like nuke waste being put in drums and left to the elements. That did not make sense and the people, just like the ones in Spink County said hell no to that practice.

    Research a way to utilize the waste, but don’t out of sight out of mind it. Tell your amigos to get the funding from the sources to that produce that crap to seriously fund a way to utilize it rather than just stick it to the people of Spink County. You know Heather has kind of a shady reputation in the nuke field so she should know where the money is to make your research a reality for both you and your students. What can be said about Dennis other than he spent 8 years as a yes man to our own capo Mike Rounds.

  52. Robert McTaggart

    Aren’t the nuclear stockpiles of the major powers slowly decreasing? Relatively recently we downblended some Russian warheads and consumed them for electricity.

    Now we are dragging our feet with regard to converting Russian plutonium-based weapons into mixed oxide fuel for electricity production.

    If you are really interested in reducing nukes, then you should support the elimination of plutonium via its consumption in a nuclear power plant to make electricity.

  53. Robert McTaggart

    I also support recycling the waste. Less mining is necessary, less waste needs to be isolated, and less time is needed for the radioactivity to achieve safe levels (hundreds of years vs. hundreds of thousands of years).

    If you want to reduce the amount of fuel that reactors consume (which means less mining and less waste), then build the new reactors that run at higher temperatures. Roughly the thermal efficiencies are close to 33%, but you could get that past 50%.

    Today’s reactors are not designed to reprocess the waste in situ. The fission by-products left in the fuel eat neutrons and spit out photons…or in other words, they starve the fission reaction of the neutrons it needs (much like robbing a fire of oxygen). New reactor designs would accommodate this, but the other route is to do reprocessing in a separate facility.

  54. Exactly Dr. McTaggart, now your cooking. Why should we potentially endanger our water and our lives to do something that already has a solution. No to nukes, no to keep trying to solve the world’s issues by destroying ourselves to get that done. Solve the problems with what we know rather than keep exacerbating them by creating more of the same. That goes for that uranium in situ mining in Edgemont. Not needed, to dangerous.

  55. Robert McTaggart

    If you are talking about uses for the military wastes, well that waste cannot be recycled to produce fission. Cs-137 and Sr-90 are on the wrong side of the chart of the nuclides (which is like the periodic table, but for isotopes, not elements).

    However, these do produce gamma radiation (photons) and beta radiation (electrons and positrons), and such radioactive source can in general be used for other beneficial uses. But the rub is that there would have to be some engineering to convert the wastes into a usable form….so it would not be free.

    Radioactive sources like these have been used to sterilize medical products and provide irradiation of food to eliminate E Coli and other pathogens. They could be engineered into seeds for radiation therapy for different cancers to locate the dose near the tumor.

    The heat from such sources can be converted into electricity to use in isolated environments, say a weather station in Antarctica that has no access to solar or wind power. The Soviet Union used Strontium-90 to power a lot of their weather stations in extreme environments. But since the break-up there has been a lot of effort to collect these orphaned sources and prevent their use in dirty bombs.

  56. Robert McTaggart

    We’re going to need a lot of energy, and that energy needs to be clean. So we will need nuclear energy. Otherwise we will burn natural gas or coal when the air conditioners and refrigerators won’t work, or we need to power the electric cars.

    Using nuclear energy means the fuel needs to come from somewhere. So activities like in situ uranium mining need to be pursued. That method is an improvement over open pit mining, as it converts uranium that is trapped into an oxidation state that is soluble in water, but one of the issues is how robust the air, water, and soil monitoring will be before, during, and after the mining.

    If you don’t like uranium mining, then you should pay for extracting uranium from seawater or coal fly ash, or pay for thorium reactors to be built in order to make up the difference between what power people want and what solar/wind can provide. However, neither of those are ready for prime time today, and I don’t think you would like to pay that bill.

    In another thread on this blog, I had proposed that solar and wind power be used to continually clean the water for in situ operations to the desired levels. After all, if solar and wind can do everything, why not?

    But I think none of my worthy opponents on this blog really want in situ mining succeed or anything positive to occur for nuclear energy. If you want to reduce carbon from natural gas, particularly methane and ethane, then finding ways for nuclear and renewables to work together is a must.

  57. Douglas Wiken

    What is the problem with putting nuclear waste in glass and concrete and burying them a few feet underground in a desert or other area with nearly zero population? The Uranium mostly did not originally come from thousands of feet deep. I realize the isotopes are different.

    Wind and solar can be used to generate compact fuels with zero net impact on the environment. Such systems can be intermittent without problem. More efficient turbines and alternators instead of generators in hydro electric systems can reduce fossil fuel use.

    Failure of the US and South Dakota to pursue improvement in economy of wind and solar will put us on the tail end of economic development. Finding a new terribly expensive way to dispose of nuclear waste will do nothing for our economy or environment.

  58. Robert McTaggart

    Hi Douglas,

    I think that if it is only a few feet underground, then security may be an issue. It would not be that different from placing the waste in glass and surrounding it with concrete on the surface. If the site were attacked, then you have a dispersal problem, and you worry about environmental impacts of such a release.

    Putting the waste inside a glass form helps to immobilize the isotopes. But if it is exposed to heat and water over a long time, then I think it is subject to thermal cycling. In a Yucca Mountain format, the waste containers would be separated far enough apart to keep temperatures at their specs for the facility.

    Not sure about zero-net impact for wind and solar. Both of those require critical elements that inevitably are mined. Mining has an environmental impact. In the case of solar, strong acids are used in the processing, and the use/disposal/storage of those have an environmental impact. Because the capacities are low (20-30%), you must use more land to produce the same power…another environmental impact.

    Nevertheless, it would still be a good idea to have applications like making alternative fuels that do not mind the intermittent nature of renewables, nor require a natural gas or battery backup.

  59. Douglas Wiken

    Alternatives for “stranded” energy have were pushed a few years ago by a Nobel Laureate.*Version*=1&*entries*=0

  60. Robert McTaggart

    Can regular gas engines consume methanol in all weather conditions, or does this feed into the fuel cell economy in some way?

  61. Dr. McTaggart is sure making a lot of sense.

  62. Douglas Wiken

    I am not sure. Methanol has and is used. Wikipedia indicates using it as a fuel makes cold weather starting more difficult. Higher octane makes higher compression engines possible, etc. I don’t know, but I suspect if wind or solar produced a lot of methanol that we could design engines that would start and run on it without difficulty.

  63. Robert McTaggart

    I think they have shown that one can pull CO2 from the atmosphere and make methanol, but I don’t know that they have done this at scale. Still some optimization to do.

  64. Robert McTaggart

    The only issue with designing new engines is that all of us have our own sunk costs…namely the cars that we already own. But as with electric cars, there could be a transition.

    Sounds like there was some M85 testing done. Bigger issues are really the energy density of methanol, which could be overcome if you could produce a lot of it and like ethanol it cannot easily be shipped by pipeline.

    So it would need some more engineering…these studies were done in the 80’s and 90’s, so things are a little different today.

  65. Donald Pay

    I’m wondering if there is a Plan C for sticking this “test” somewhere else. I have to think DOE must be about done with Battelle’s failure to perform on this contract, and Congress must be taking a hard look at this Obama/Moniz project, which appears to be dead in the cradle and a waste of money.

    Will the feds try to intimidate Spink County by applying for their local permits? Will they try another county in South Dakota? Will they move on to Texas or South Carolina? Or, will they get smart, drop this project until they’ve enacted the Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations and developed the rules and regulations so everyone knows what rules we are playing under?

    I’ve never seen the federal government act reasonably on radioactive waste matters since the early 1980s. Whether Congress and the Department of Energy can change its poorly thought out approach is unlikely, which is why the Blue Ribbon Commission was right to suggest that the radioactive waste program be extracted from the Department of Energy and put under a broad-based commission.

  66. Grant county might be a good fit for The Borehole. Geologically, even if the “progressive” folk there are against science.

  67. Robert McTaggart

    Not sure how it is Battelle’s failure if a county commission, which Battelle does not control, decides not to grant permits.

    The activity would benefit researchers and students from SDSMT, and contractors that they work with. What do you think Spink County would want outside of the STEM education opportunities for students and teachers, selection of a 3rd party to make sure no nuclear material came to the site, and local economic activity related to operations at the borehole?

    “I’ve never seen the federal government act reasonably on radioactive waste matters since the early 1980s.” I recall someone wise on this blog saying that we are the government…so I have to agree with you that we have not acted reasonably on radioactive waste matters since 1979 after Three Mile Island.

  68. What if there was a 3rd party to make sure no nuclear material came to The Borehole and maybe two more groups, perhaps one named by Mr. H’s blog friends, to make sure the 3rd party was doing their jobs. And then have the state oversee all of it, but not the Department of Environment. Create a new Department, and put Mr. Pay in charge of it to oversee the whole carnival.

  69. Robert McTaggart

    Yeah, that is not going to drive up the costs of government at all ;^).

  70. Robert McTaggart

    To Mr. Pay’s point…if they cannot perform the test here in one of the simplest geologies available in SD, then they will try elsewhere in a more complicated geology. More failures will be possible (such as getting equipment stuck) as a result, so more money must be allocated.

  71. What do the shale drill reports reveal?

  72. Grudz illustrates lack of transparency costs us all.

  73. Robert McTaggart

    The number of nuclear weapons is going down. Slowly, but still going down. The best way to get rid of plutonium, whether from nuclear power plants or from nuclear warheads, is to consume it for electricity in a power plant. So this number could be reduced more quickly.

    Key drivers for this decrease are the costs of producing and maintaining a nuclear arsenal, the desire to reduce potential accidents, and the availability of advanced non-nuclear weapon systems that can deliver a more targeted response (like the bunker-busters).

    Not dealing with the wastes just makes us less safe. Not doing the research to deal with the wastes as safely as possible makes us less safe.

    It is possible that direct burial is going to be cheaper than recycling the wastes into usable forms for food irradiation, radiation therapy, etc. because a new facility may need to be built.

  74. barry freed

    How many know that SD had a Nuke? Was even touted as a tourist trap. Like the Boreholes, it was experimental and its risks kept secret from the People. Locals talk of a melt down, radioactive releases into the Big SiouxR, and increased childhood leukemia in the area.

  75. The Pathfinder, built by Allis Chalmers! That has come up in the Borehole discussion, Barry. next time Prairie Village has an Allis convention, they should invite the nuclear power division to come set up a booth and a demo.

  76. John Wrede

    Cory: A short review of this article aught to tell us that drilling holes in the ground for any number of reasons, be they storage of nuclear waste or providing water for domestic or agricultural use have consequences! Science/schmience!!! The notion that science, engineering and better monitoring will provide greater safety and stability to our existence and culture is wishful thinking. Science is nothing more than asking and answering individual questions and there comes a point in any process where no more questions about a particular activity or process need to be asked. The answers are going to be obvious. Winston Churchill said it best- “American’s can be trusted to do the right thing; only after they’ve tried everything else.” No need to worry about nuclear contamination from nuke waste storage. Its already there…………. If we don’t want this answer, then the simplest solution is don’t go looking for it………. That is the Conservative way of doing business.

  77. Robert McTaggart

    I think the issue with Pathfinder was outside of the core, i.e. welds, etc. Today they want to reduce welds and other potential weak points as much as possible, which if you think about it, is a fairly specialized type of manufacturing. Unfortunately we have largely ceded that to places like Japan.

    True, one result of this scientific effort is it may generate data showing that other storage methodologies would be better. But that is a difference between science and politics. In politics, you don’t necessarily have to back up what you say. In science, somebody else can repeat your experiment, and they should get a similar answer (within statistical variance).

    The release of naturally occurring radioisotopes from natural locations, as in the case of oil and gas fracking, is different than the controlled storage that exists today in the nuclear industry. Nuclear energy has to account for wastes and monitoring in their cost structure….not sure if natural gas has done that yet with NORMs or methane leaks.