Spink County Chair to Battelle, Daugaard, Wilson: Borehole Won’t Pass

Spink County Commission chairman Dave Albrecht has signed and sent the letter telling Battelle they do not have the support of the public or the commission for the Deep Borehole Field Test:

Dave Albrecht, Spink County Commission chairman, letter to Battelle, 2016.06.10
Dave Albrecht, Spink County Commission chairman, letter to Battelle, 2016.06.10 (click to embiggen!).

Notice that Albrecht avoids ascribing to commissioners any position on the merits of the Borehole experiment itself. Pointing out the evident lack of public support, Albrecht says Battelle’s imminent zoning application won’t get four commissioners to vote aye.

Chairman Albrecht mentions “a proposed legal agreement currently being drafted by the United States Department of Energy, between [that should be among—more than two parties!] Battelle, the United States Department of Energy, the State of South Dakota and Spink County.” Perusing the commission minutes since the Borehole came south, I see executive sessions on April 12 and May 17 to discuss personnel matters none for legal matters. Nor do I see any official appearance from DOE personnel to inform the commission of any proposed legal agreement. While this June 10 letter may moot any such agreement, I am curious to know what that proposed agreement entails and how and when the commission became cognizant of the drafting of this agreement.

Note that Albrecht copies Governor Dennis Daugaard and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology president Heather Wilson. The latter cc is particularly interesting: Albrecht does not send the letter to the CEO of Battelle but to energy business line manager Rodney Osborne and media man T.R. Massey, the Battelle staff directly involved with pitching the project in Spink County. But Albrecht skips the Mines personnel who came to public meetings to discuss the project and instead goes straight to Wilson. Perhaps Wilson was more involved in lobbying for the project than public appearances would indicate.

Albrecht writes that Battelle is still welcome to submit its zoning application, but with the county hanging an official “Borehole Not Welcome” sign on the door, should Battelle bother?

36 Responses to Spink County Chair to Battelle, Daugaard, Wilson: Borehole Won’t Pass

  1. Robert McTaggart

    Sad letter for my friends at SDSMT.

    Nothing in this letter about the merit of the research, so I would agree with you Cory that it would be interesting to see if the commission were objecting to something in that proposed agreement in addition to the public response. Or if it were not clear what benefit there would be after the holes were plugged up.

    But there is not much rationale now for Battelle to submit any application. Looks like nobody will vote on the matter.

  2. mike from iowa

    Hang in there,Doc. Patience is required. Many of us citizens have been waiting to engage the NRA in commonsense talk about gun restrictions and we keep being reminded now is not “the” time or even a good time for talking.

    Just kick the can a little further down the road. It’ll work out someday-maybe.

  3. Robert McTaggart

    Jerry will be disappointed: I wasn’t CC’ed on this letter with the rest of the three amigos ;^).

    Yeah, I noticed yesterday there wasn’t going to be a vote on gun legislation after the moment of silence in the Congress for Orlando. If you can’t get on a plane, then why should you be able to get a semi-automatic gun?

    Still think there is a role to play for South Dakota in the future of nuclear energy, but it may be more in the area of safety, environmental monitoring, and manufacturing and testing of parts/components.

  4. Donald Pay

    It’s a great letter. What I like about it is that it lets us all in on some of the behind the scenes stuff going on between the Department of Energy, Battelle and the State of South Dakota, and Spink County. I’m sure the public meetings are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Battelle, the State and DOE are trying to do to push this forward. It took some guts to spill some of the beans in this letter, just as it has taken some guts for a county commission to stand up to the Governor and a federal agency.

    My question would be: what is being negotiated in this legal agreement? Who is doing the negotiating? Why can’t the public know what’s being negotiated?

  5. Yup, don, there is another shoe. I’d applaud the 4 commissioners and chair as courageous, but that is premature. The governors publicly paid lawyers are legion.

    Compared to 4 of 5 Penn & outspoken racist Custer Commission Chair who all belatedly brown-nosed the governors denial of the tribal proposal renaming Harney Peak, Spink has some accountable representation. So far.

  6. Donald Pay

    The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board has posted the Department of Energy’s response to the NWTRB’s recommendations on the Deep Borehole Disposal Test.

    The first thing that sticks out is that DOE’s letter was dated June 9, but doesn’t include any updated information regarding the change in location to South Dakota from North Dakota, nor any updated information regarding any change in partners from the North Dakota site. That strikes me as a bit deceptive.

    Second, much of the input from the NWTRB is rejected as outside the scope of the test. The NWTSB had considerable problems with the lack of scientific depth of DOE’s proposal, and had suggested additional scientific research that would make the study more robust. DOE doesn’t think such information needs to be collected at this time.

    Third, DOE rejects the NWTRB’s idea that a team of “outside experts” monitor and oversee the DBDT. DOE specifically counters the NWTRB idea with something the NWTRB had warned against: picking a group of DOE and DOE-funded National Lab scientists to monitor and oversee the project.


  7. Robert McTaggart

    Thanks for the link. I quote from the DOE response:

    “The Deep Borehole Field Test (DBFT) is not intended to collect data to consider a specific site for disposal of radioactive waste. The DBFT should provide significant information to evaluate the engineering feasibility of the disposal concept and aspects of operational and post closure safety”.

    It sounds like the scope from DOE’s perspective is more limited, and not directed toward solving all issues or potential issues of waste disposal. The DOE is trying to craft the best deep borehole technology possible. The Board wants all waste storage methodologies to follow certain principles. The DOE is not ready to implement deep borehole technology as a waste storage methodology…yet. So there is some stress and strain as a result.

    Why don’t Democrats allow Republicans to oversee and approve the convention rules for the Democratic Convention? Wouldn’t Republicans be an outside party? Or would such oversight be counterproductive to crafting the best message for the Democratic Party?

    Nevertheless, I can still buy having other non-nuclear folks participate right now, for safety or environmental monitoring or an independent geologist. As long as they work to make the process better and safer.

  8. Donald Pay

    My understanding of the NWTRB’s position is that the board believes the Department of Energy is not being realistic or honest when it says the site selected for the deep borehole disposal test is not going to be seen as the chosen disposal site.

    There is ample evidence in previous National Lab studies in the run up to this test that Spink County as one of six South Dakota counties where geologic factors seem favorable for siting a disposal facility using deep borehole technology. Several other studies about how to site these facilities have indicated that the nose under the tent approach is one that has worked well in other countries. And then there is just the common sense budgetary argument that once the government starts work to characterize an area, it isn’t going to want to incur added costs to move to a different locations.

  9. Robert McTaggart

    I would counter the budget argument with why would you do all sorts of testing for something (in this case radioactive waste) for a technique that you are not sure you are going to use, for a technique whose nuclear aspects await information regarding non-nuclear aspects, at a location where no nuclear waste is being used? Wouldn’t a U.S. Senator raise objections about that?

    Not dealing with the wastes also add unnecessary costs to the DOE budget. I am sure they would rather be spending that money on clean energy development of all kinds instead of maintaining aging facilities. Wouldn’t you want more monies spent on batteries or grid infrastructure?

    Why not have a future disposal facility at Spink County? First, the aquifer presents its own difficulties in approving the location. Water and nuclear waste are not friends. Second, transportation of the waste would require a longer distance of travel, which would factor in any risk assessment of operations. Third, acceptance of nuclear wastes in the State of South Dakota would currently be put up to a public vote, and that vote is not a given for approval by any means. Fourth, many would like retrievability to be possible for any waste repository, and that aspect has not been proven yet.

  10. Robert McTaggart

    So Spink County would not likely be a good candidate for a permanent repository. But if the DOE, NWTRB, NRC, EPA, etc. said the technique passes all of their litmus tests in the future, a future site possesses all of the characteristics that are necessary for safe storage, and the local public consents, then that future location will be feasible.

  11. Robert McTaggart

    While we have been focusing on military wastes instead of commercial wastes (i.e. from power plants), there are aspects regarding siting and public consent and safety that would impact the storage of commercial wastes as well.

    The problem is that all energy development produces waste and has an environmental impact. But we want the big thanksgiving meal without cleaning up the kitchen afterwards. In my opinion nuclear should play a bigger role because it produces less waste per kilowatt-hour, no carbon during electricity generation, and uses less land per kilowatt-hour.

    While we are on track to replace nuclear with natural gas, nuclear and solar should be the best of friends. If new nuclear can provide better load-following characteristics, then you wouldn’t need as much natural gas as a backup.

    I am curious Mr. Pay…would you be in favor of siting a reprocessing facility in South Dakota that reduced both the volume and the radioactivity of the waste we generate today, as well as the amount of nuclear material that needs to be mined (uranium or in the future thorium)?

  12. Robert McTaggart


    Some environmental groups have been rethinking the premature closure of nuclear plants because of the extra carbon that will be emitted in a switch to natural gas.

    In fact, the utility that operates the Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska just voted to shut down that nuclear plant.


  13. Robert McTaggart

    Sweden is facing the same issues. They are getting rid of what amounted to an anti-nuclear tax. Not necessarily building new nuclear, but they are moving away from shutting down current nuclear plants prematurely. So if you enjoy the carbon benefit (the thanksgiving day meal) you need to deal with the wastes (clean up the kitchen).


    “One key difficulty is that nuclear power plants tend to run around the clock, whereas wind power is much more variable (operating at capacity around 30 percent of the time). One peer-reviewed study found that to replace 9,000 megawatts of nuclear capacity, Sweden would have to build more than 22,000 megawatts of wind capacity, plus about 8,600 megawatts’ worth of gas turbines for backup power. By some estimates, building that much wind and gas would cost twice as much as simply keeping the existing reactors open for their remaining life spans.”

  14. Donald Pay

    Since there is some evidence in the Spink County letter that some sort of “agreement” is being negotiated between Daugaard, DOE and Battellle, it might be wise to consider that the half-life of being able to count on DOE’s assurances is not very long. Moniz is now trying to welch on the deal the DOE made with Idaho about 20 years ago.


  15. Robert McTaggart

    Don’t forget that Spink County is also party to those negotiations as well mentioned in that letter.

    It sounds like DOE wants to renegotiate an agreement to facilitate the development of small modular reactors. Just the research alone may be an issue. Other kinds of nuclear waste research are also impacted by said agreement.

    Some of the military wastes that we have been talking about are stored in Idaho today, so if the borehole technique were viable, then they could be isolated safely…which could potentially allow the pursuit of some of the research on small reactors (but I would have to check the fine print of the agreement).



  16. Robert McTaggart


    I don’t think that Idaho objects to new wastes from or for research necessarily, they just want the old liquid wastes converted to a solid form.

  17. Disappointed, hardly Dr. McTaggat. I am delighted that you were not in on the letter campaign. Though I am quite sure you were notified promptly of the letters existence. Just because you did not get top billing does not mean that you are not considered at the trough.

    The good people in Spink County know a thing or two about hunting and the dangers involved walking the ring necks down, they have to watch out for skunks. In this case these were able to identify them at a distance before any issues happened. I salute them and their wisdom, bravo!

  18. Robert McTaggart

    Sorry, but I only found out about the letter through this blog. I didn’t even get a decoder ring from the governor to find out if I should drink my ovaltine….

  19. Be careful shooting that BB gun or you will shoot your eye out.

  20. Robert McTaggart

    Will do ;^). And I would lock the door to keep those dogs out of the kitchen, or start developing a fondness for Chinese turkey….

    Maybe some day we will have an actual vote as part of a consent-based process…even if it is by the duly elected members of local/county government. Just not today.

  21. We actually have had those consent-based votes here in South Dakota. We killed ETSI Coal Slurry a way to pipe our water to Texas. http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/coal-slurry-idea-came-and-went That was another real good idea kind of like a hole in the head or a borehole in the head, same difference. Then there was the Lonetree, this pos even wanted to deposit nuclear waste there. http://www.nytimes.com/1992/12/22/business/company-news-the-saga-of-the-lonetree-landfill.html The state voted and said no, even though Edgemont wanted to do it. What happened next was recycling or as my daddy used to say, utilizing resources. See, he even straightened nails for reuse, separated them, and put them in old jars instead of tossing them in the trash. Damn fine feller that I think of on this Father’s Day. BTW, happy Father’s Day. I hope you had a steak and some ice cream.

    Instead of burying it in Spink County, stop making more of it. Recycle the stuff into something peaceful. Problem solved, no thanking required.

  22. Robert McTaggart

    Yes, but no vote yet for this particular borehole.

    If you want to produce the power that we will actually use, when we want to use it, without generating more carbon, then nuclear energy will need to be part of the plan. So more waste will be produced, but advanced reactors and recycling can reduce both the volume and radioactivity that needs to be isolated, but some form of final disposal would still be necessary. Chemical wastes will also come from biofuels, solar, and wind, but we will still pursue those.

    The wastes being considered for deep borehole disposal could not be recycled to generate electricity by nuclear fission in a power plant. But yes, there are other uses for the radioactivity, such as non-destructive testing, food irradiation, radiation therapy, or stand-alone power. The latter would convert heat into electricity at a lower efficiency, but that is fine for some off the grid applications like recharging batteries. Food irradiation would be a good thing to promote food safety and eliminate E Coli.

    Unfortunately, we would be in the same circumstance with regard to public consent for recycling. There would need to be a dedicated facility built to convert the wastes into a usable form, or to use said wastes for a peaceful purpose (both could be on the same site to reduce transportation issues). Would you approve of a facility that converts non-fissionable wastes (even those resulting from a maximum recycling of commercial wastes) into peaceful uses in South Dakota? That would have a more sustainable impact in terms of employment than a borehole that is plugged up.

    There would still need to be a final disposal of some sort in the future, but recycling would allow a peaceful use while reducing the radioactivity that would need to be buried.

  23. Robert McTaggart

    With regard to avoiding the production of more nuclear weapons that could generate similar wastes for the borehole, I would say that we currently have more than enough nuclear weapons around. As noted in another thread, the number has been slowly decreasing. That could accelerate if we were to reprocess more nuclear warheads into a usable form for power plants (which can occur elsewhere).

    The best way to get rid of plutonium once and for all is to consume it for peaceful electricity from a power plant. Pure plutonium is an alpha emitter and can be handled with gloves, which is a primary proliferation concern. Current plans for downblending of nuclear warheads would produce a mixed oxide fuel that would offer some self-protection via gamma rays, so gloves would offer no protection (i.e. the plutonium would not be pure).

  24. No Nukes, No Nuke Power. No Nuke Depositing in South Dakota. Spink said no, I think it is safe to say the rest of the 60 some counties, more or less, would vote the same. That dog won’t hunt here so time for Heather and her posse to find some other means to get rid of it. She is in charge of a prestigious school here. Have her do her job to put this on fast track. Too many times we see that the easy way is to just toss it in the ocean or bury it, find a better way. Is this rocket science?

  25. Robert McTaggart

    Sweden just did a study showing that it would cost 2-3 times as much to replace the carbon-free power from nuclear with a combination of wind and natural gas. Keeping the nuclear power plants going longer allows more time for wind, solar, grid, batteries, etc. to mature. That would reduce but not eliminate the need for nuclear.

    If you want to eliminate nuclear altogether and save the land for other uses, then solar power from space is the alternative. That is not technically possible today. Radiation from space degrades solar panels on the space station today, as does UV on the ground.

    No, it is more of a political problem of getting local approvals and finding the money to get it done. Reprocessing and waste burial can all be technically achieved.

    The problem of dumping items in the ocean is that the ocean has a lot of salt, so a lot of these protective measures for waste storage would fail. Not sure about the status of radioactive wastes that are vitrified (put into a glass form). The problem with direct burial is that once again, the wastes could be used for a beneficial purpose prior to burial, including more electricity.

  26. mike from iowa

    You guys need to get caught up with technology. Decoder rings? Take two empty tin cans, two buttons and some kite string and you, Jerry, and you, Doc, can talk to one another from different rooms. That is progress.

  27. Robert McTaggart

    No, that would mean we are holding a string and shouting at each other from different rooms :^).

  28. Robert McTaggart

    Hot off the presses. Battelle is dropping Spink County as a potential site, and will not apply for any permits.


  29. mike from iowa

    I hope you don’t drop off the face of the earth, Doc. There are many times (like every day) when scientific knowledge/expertise comes in handy around here. I can’t always follow what you are talking about,but I’m not frightened of science as some tend to be.

  30. Robert McTaggart

    Thanks Mike. Being the “majority of one” isn’t all it is cracked up to be ;^).

    I’ll be around here and there.

  31. Stay tuned, Mike: Dr. McTaggart will surely provide expertise when Battelle announces they’ve found suitable bedrock in Iowa!

  32. Donald Pay

    Here’s the last line in the AP article that I saw: [Battelle spokesperson T.R. Massey] said there are alternative sites, but declined to reveal where they are located.

    Remember, there are several other counties in northeast South Dakota that DOE has fingered. They’ve got a compliant stooge in Daugaard, so South Dakota is not out of the running. There are more compliant folks in Texas and South Carolina, so maybe DOE will move on.

  33. Robert McTaggart

    You mean there are people who will take DOE’s money, and won’t have to worry about any nuclear waste in the whole testing process? Imagine that :^).

  34. Donald Pay

    No. Parts of Texas and South Carolina are already nuclear waste sacrifice areas. I’d rather it go to Texas, then we can give Texas back to Mexico. Problem solved.

  35. Robert McTaggart

    You don’t think the Donald would want to add-on Mexico? He loves Mexicans. If he makes them Americans, then guess what…he will have added millions of American jobs to our economy.

    I guess China is a rare earth element mining sacrifice area to support wind and solar and batteries. But since that is out of sight, that doesn’t count.

    Yes, there are nuclear activities already in Texas. Some are investigating Texas as an alternative to Yucca or as a centralized waste facility. I think they do something with nuclear weapons development or disposal as well. South Carolina has a national lab that does a lot of work in nuclear chemistry and reprocessing, and is trying to get a mixed oxide fuel facility built to convert Russian warheads into fuel for American reactors.

  36. mike from iowa

    Braindead, Cantalouope Calves King and Ivana Kuturnutzov all have rocks in their heads and the rock runs deep. Maybe they can be mobile drilling sites. Grassley’s brain is becoming petrified so toss him into the mix.