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DOE, Battelle Won’t Drill Borehole in Spink County; Loss for Daugaard?

The United States Department of Energy and Ohio-based engineering contractor Battelle have abandoned their plan to carry out the Deep Borehole Field Test in Spink County:

In a letter recently sent to the Spink County Commission, Battelle and the Department of Energy wrote that while they appreciated the opportunity to engage people in the region, they will not proceed with a plan that would have involved drilling a hole 3 miles deep into granite rock formations in the county. The borehole test would have been used to see whether such a procedure could be used to dispose of radio active waste or to develop geothermal energy. The drilling would have amounted to a dry run and would not have have involved any radioactive waste, officials said [Shannon Marvel, “Battelle, Feds Scrap Spink County Borehole Plan,” Aberdeen American News, 2016.06.21].

This news comes less than two weeks after the Spink County Commission sent a letter to Battelle saying that, given what they perceived as nearly universal local opposition, the commission would not approve the Borehole. Locals based their opposition largely on the fear that the feds, Battelle, state officials, and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology were all lying to them when they said this nifty engineering project would not bring nuclear waste to Spink County, as well as concerns that something could go wrong in the drilling, as it did in the failed private oil exploration project in Wasta, and do permanent damage to local aquifers.

At every point, Borehole project officials said that if the public didn’t want the Borehole in their backyard, they’d go elsewhere. Spink County residents said they didn’t want the Borehole. The Department of Energy and Battelle are taking the Borehole elsewhere, just as they did when Pierce County residents in North Dakota, the first site chosen for the Borehole, said no, thanks to the project.

We might consider the Borehole loss (Spink County activists can make a fair argument for substituting the word win) the second big indictment this month of Governor Dennis Daugaard’s political capital. He advocated the Borehole as a safe and routine research opportunity. He personally contacted Spink County commissioners. Yet local elected Republican Rep. Lana Greenfield publicly declared her mistrust of the Governor, and none of the Daugaardian economic development boosterism that should have kicked in around a project promising millions in economic activity and dozens of jobs got traction. A county that voted for Daugaard in the 2014 primary and general elections a percentage point or two more strongly than the rest of the state and whose current voter registration is just a tick more Republican than the statewide average wouldn’t take Republican Governor Daugaard’s word that the Borehole would be good for Spink County and for South Dakota. Add this rebuke to his inability to exert decisive influence in his party primaries, plus his continued dithering on calling a Special Session to whip his caucus into shape on Medicaid expansion, and you get a picture of a governor who doesn’t know how to translate the biggest gubernatorial election margin in South Dakota history into an imperial governorship that enacts a sweeping vision and agenda.

Opposition in Spink County and on this blog seized on suspicions advanced on this blog three years ago that the Daugaard Administration brought the nuke-connected Heather Wilson here from New Mexico to run the School of Mines as part of a secret plan to bring nuclear waste to South Dakota. I would think that if the Borehole were part of such a long-standing plan, if the Governor had intervened in a Board of Regents hiring decision just to put one player in place to secure a nuclear waste dump, he’d have twisted arms harder to get what he wanted in Spink County.

The relatively swift deflection of the Deep Borehole Field Test from Spink County might suggest a weak Governor… or it might suggest the Governor has bigger fish to fry or other places to fry them. But if we don’t dig for conspiracies, the Department of Energy and Battelle seem to be saying we can take the government at its word: they expressed commitment to consent-based siting, Spink County didn’t consent, and the Borehole isn’t coming to Spink County.


  1. leslie 2016-06-22

    Way to go don, cory!!

  2. Paul Seamans 2016-06-22

    Now to stop Dennis D. from drilling into Pierre Shale to determine the feasibility of storing low level nuclear waste, or fracking waste water, or whatever his plan is.

  3. jerry 2016-06-22

    Daugaard has clearly seen a method that he thinks will line his pockets like his predecessor did with the EB-5. Daugaard could easily bring big money to the state by Medicaid Expansion, but that would not benefit him monetarily nor would the rest of his gang be able to skim it. The only way they can make their walking around money is through some kind of graft by skinning taxpayers. Drill baby drill is where he sees this approach.

  4. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-22

    Let’s celebrate this victory by all parties who do not oppose science.

    Wait a minute….

  5. Daniel Buresh 2016-06-22

    More delays in our quest for cleaner energy. It’s too bad people don’t understand that nuclear energy will be a large part of moving towards more renewable energies.They equate nuclear energy to the big bad wolf because their small minds don’t understand science. The Nimby South Dakotans strike again while they sit and do nothing to reduce their carbon footprint.

  6. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-22


    Instead of keeping old nuclear to maintain and slightly improve carbon levels, and instead of developing new nuclear to better follow loads and help out renewables, if not ramp up the production of clean energy, why not burn more natural gas?

    Leaks of natural gas are at least 20 times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. That’s nothing. Now there is a new threat from ethane from nat gas production. Ignore it. Natural gas only emits 15 times the carbon that nuclear does per kilowatt-hour over its life-cycle without methane or ethane leaks, so let’s replace old nuclear with natural gas. Just makes good sense.

    Reconcentrated NORMs from fracking are not regulated the same way that the nuclear industry must oversee its radioactive wastes. As long as natural gas facilitates the growth of solar and wind, we will forget about that.

    Relying upon solar and wind without the battery or grid infrastructure in place will make people feel good, but that will generate a lot more carbon in the effort to reduce carbon. Without science, I guess that is possible?

  7. Daniel Buresh 2016-06-22

    Might as well keep the coal plants firing too since we apparently have no appreciation for cleaner energy.

  8. Craig 2016-06-22

    The members of the Spink County Commission and those residents who protested are simply ignorant and anti-science. It is a sad day when leaders make decisions based upon unwarranted and unsubstantiated fears rather than fact, but it goes to show why electing EDUCATED and rational leaders is so vital.

  9. Donald Pay 2016-06-22

    Let’s not personalize this. The grassroots citizens in Spink County “won.” They never asked to be involved in this issue, but they responded. Whenever government leaders listen to their citizens, rather than outside interests that dangle baubles before them, that’s a win for everyone.

    Years of secretive, behind the scenes maneuvering by state and federal officials on this matter, secretive, corrupt “science” as practiced by the nuclear industry/government complex, Congressional failures to enact reforms in radioactive waste management. These are what lost.

    SDSM&T does have a lot to answer for, in my mind. They really need better leadership.

  10. Don Coyote 2016-06-22

    @Robert McTaggart: “… why not burn more natural gas?

    From the Flint, Michigan Democrat debate:

    Bernie Sanders is pretty straight forward: “No, I do not support fracking.”

    While Hillary Clinton equivocates:

    1) “when any locality or any state is against it,”
    2) “when the release of methane or contamination of water is present,”
    3) “unless we can require that anybody who fracks has to tell us exactly what chemicals they are using.”

    Dance, dance, dance.

  11. MC 2016-06-22

    The one comment that really concerns me is:

    “Locals based their opposition largely on the fear that the feds, Battelle, state officials, and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology were all lying to them…”

    This is the same government that we trust to protect us, to provide us with our health care, to pay for their share of the Lewis and Clark Pipeline, to care for our veterans, to maintain our infrastructure. Do we have a bigger problem here?

  12. EX-SDDC 2016-06-22

    I find it odd how Spink County residents have rallied to oppose this deep hole, yet are OK with their county land and roads being ripped up from one end to the other for this oil pipeline.

    Perhaps the timing for this borehole project is poor. There may be some buyers remorse on the pipeline that is feeding the borehole opposition. Personally, I think we’d have been better off with a borehole than the massive destruction we’ve had with land and roads regarding this pipeline that will no doubt bring us all prosperity.

  13. Paul Seamans 2016-06-22

    Dennis Daugaard and Mike Rounds have a history of supporting projects that are not environmentally friendly. Both have been big supporters of letting pipelines cross our state with no real benefit to our state. They appear to favor Powertech/Arzaga with their in situ mining proposal. Daugaard has been CAFO’s biggest cheerleader. Daugaard wants to store low level nuclear waste in the Pierre Shale.

    I simply do not trust Gov. Daugaard and his administration. If the governor is for drilling the deepbore hole in Spink County then right away the project is suspect as far as I am concerned.

  14. T 2016-06-22

    Craig @932. (Johnson)?
    Think you are confused, “ignorant against science’ a lot of opposition held higher education degrees than the spink county commissioners if that’s how you are “rating” ignorance vs non ignorance , btw I think the 4 out of 5 commissioners are very educated, saw the big picture and voted the majority will of the people, (highly educated people I might add) you are confused as to local leadership roles and responsibilities and you under value the folks of spink county.

  15. Adam 2016-06-22

    “Everything you anti-borehole people think is clean, is actually dirty, and everything you think is dirty, is actually clean. You fools!” -McTaggart

    “To hell with you and the borehole.” -Adam

  16. Daniel Buresh 2016-06-22

    If those commissioners are educated, they didn’t use that education to make a decision. They used emotion based on ignorance. There is no way around that. It’s ok, we can just keep burning fossil fuels for energy because without nuclear energy, that will NEVER go away.

  17. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-06-22

    We can be at least somewhat thankful that DD is doing this at least semi out in the open. At this point in his governorship Mike Rounds, was keeping the secret of the gorilla project and no one could find out what it was. Thank God, that did not go through.

    Dr McTaggert, your post at 2016-06-22 at 09:00 does not hold water. Here you are arguing this waste is from nuclear power. Earlier this year you were saying that the deep borehole project was to dispose of military nuclear waste. That of course would come about from the proposal by this President and this Congress to spend a trillion dollars to upgrade our nuclear weapons capability, while at the same time pretending that we are for disarming the world of nuclear weapons.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-22

    MC, I’d say there is a bigger problem. Residents refused to take any statement made about the Borehole at face value. As Donald Pay suggests, the state is reaping the mistrust it has sown.

    But as Ex-SDDC reminds us, this mistrust seems to be selective, not pervasive. Citizens don’t connect this mistrust to more clearly dangerous and intrusive projects like the Dakota Access pipeline. Who knows how many of those Borehole opponents will vote for another kind of lying hole for President?

    And Donald, while we’ve shared a great deal of useful, technical information on this website, I don’t think the commissioners made an educated decision. I agree with Daniel that they voted on emotion… including their fear of voters throwing them out. In part, voting on that fear is fine, as it does signal they are listening to the people.

  19. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-22

    Lanny, I think we have had this conversation before, and I have gone back and forth about what type of waste I am talking about.

    What is common between the storage of military wastes with the deep borehole technique and the storage of commercial wastes with a Yucca Mountain style of storage is the adverse reaction to any type of waste produced by nuclear processes, and the need for local approval for any type of isolation or disposal that would secure them better.

    That makes the politics of nuclear waste management difficult. Additional headwinds are provided by not being able to see ionizing radiation, so it is unsettling even though we can detect it and shield against it. Outside of what Hollywood has provided, the general public has no context for radiation other than maybe an X-ray or a relative getting treated with radiation therapy. Few have had the basic experiments in a K-12 setting.

    Adam…you think that wind, solar, batteries, hydropower and natural gas have no environmental impact nor produce any waste whatsoever? If you are really concerned about reducing carbon, delivering the power we need, and generating the smallest volume of waste possible, nuclear needs to be in the mix.

  20. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-22

    The primary reasons why natural gas is winning at the moment are (a.) it emits half the carbon that coal does, and (b.) it is cheaper than just about everything else right now, and (c.) you can burn it whenever you need it (particularly when wind and solar fail to deliver).

    Those premises will be challenged in the near future. While it emits half the carbon that coal does, I am not sure that includes the impact of methane and ethane leaks, which are worse than carbon dioxide for the climate. Once people start using natural gas for everything (power, heat, hydrogen for fuel cells, LNG for Europe, etc.), prices will not stay as low as today…and ultimately it is a finite resource. Finally, other technologies, such as energy storage or load-following small nuclear reactors, will compete with nat gas to help out renewables.

    The hope that people have for wind and solar to take over is reminiscent of the hope regarding fusion power. Yes, both are always making progress, but the big moment is always 30 years away.

  21. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-22


    Yes, we should pay to upgrade our nuclear weapons arsenal. Overall our arsenal should go down in number, but the ones we have should work correctly and without any accidents.

  22. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-22

    Mr. Coyote,

    While it is great that Bernie is against natural gas, he is also against nuclear. In fact, he would close down all of the nuclear plants right now in my opinion. Not sure how he replaces the energy lost without natural gas or nuclear in the mix, let alone other fossil fuels.

    For the entire year of 2015, the EIA says we produced the following in Quadrillion BTU:

    Coal: 17.927
    Nat Gas: 27.991
    Crude Oil: 19.720
    NGPL (natural gas plant liquids): 4.474
    Nuclear: 8.338
    Hydroelectric: 2.389
    Geothermal: 0.224
    Solar/PV: 0.550
    Wind: 1.816
    Biomass: 4.715

    So 70.112 come from fossil fuels, 8.338 from nuclear, and 9.694 from renewables. For a total of 88.143.

    For solar to do everything…and I mean everything… it would need to increase production by more than 16,000%!!! OK, let’s say that half comes from wind, that is still a 8,000% increase. Because the capacity of solar is roughly 25%, you in essence have to overbuild by a factor of four to generate the same power. And that doesn’t allow for any growth in power demand.

    Uff da.

  23. Douglas Wiken 2016-06-22

    A deep borehole through several aquifers (apparently) seems like an incredibly stupid way to dispose of nuclear waste. Yucca mountain and old salt mines seem to make more sense. Sticking the waste in glass and concrete containers buried in a desert would save enough money to maintain continuous guards to prevent terrorism.

    It also seemed to me that the nuclear treaty with Russia that required destruction of missile silos was a mistake. They were designed to withstand nearby nuclear strikes. They should have made nearly ideal storage sites for at least some nuclear waste.

    It might be that the borehole would produce useful knowledge about the earth and geology, etc., and that may actually be the main reason, but put into a national defense funding method which may have gotten it past Congress. But that is my own devil theory.

    Nuclear power might make sense if it was Thorium-based which would allow smaller, safer systems which produce waste somewhat less distressing compared to Uranium-based systems. If SDSM&T and SUSD wanted to do something for the SD economy and environment, they would be pushing their physics and chemistry departments in the direction of Thorium reactor research and better uses of stranded wind energy than building huge long power lines to move the power out of SD.

    There are probably dozens of options better than continuing with fossil fuels and Uranium-based nuclear systems.

  24. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-22

    Douglas, once again I agree with much of what you say.

    It may turn out that the Yucca Mountain style of storage just works better for any type of waste. In the future I would hope that we do recycling first. Thorium should be considered in the next generation of nuclear power plants…but the first commercial Thorium plant needs to be built before feasibility can truly be determined.

    You do not need a nuclear engineering department to support a nuclear power plant, but you do need a team from several departments. Most of the engineers at any nuclear power plant are in fact regular mechanical, electrical, and civil engineers, so they really need nuclear-savvy engineers.

    At present, nuclear engineering and health physics are valuable niches for SDSU Physics. Students at SDSU can pick up a BS in Mechanical Engineering with a Minor in Nuclear Engineering for 133 hours. Physics majors can incorporate the Minor in Nuclear Engineering within a 120 hour degree. And they can get all three for not much more. Those are the best deals on campus for a high paying and meaningful profession in my opinion.

    Stay tuned for our 3-2 program with Idaho State in nuclear engineering that was just approved.

  25. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-06-22

    Dr McTaggert, As a scientist, for the life of me, I can’t understand how you, or any clear thinking individual, for that matter, can advocate for upgrading our nuclear weapons arsenal, at the same time that we are talking about reducing nuclear capability around the planet, and went to war in Iraq on the pretext that they had nuclear weapons, and were also willing to go to war with Iran on the pretext that their nuclear energy program was going to lead to them having nuclear weapons. Cynical much?

  26. grudznick 2016-06-22

    I think that Dr. McTaggart and I are among the few individuals here who really understand these issues. And of course, we are not against learning and science like most libbies, we are #4Science.

  27. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-06-22

    Grudz, I have already acknowledged how much smarter you are than am I. I come by my disdain for nuclear, honestly, however. I lived within 5 miles of the Pathfinder plant which almost became a nuclear accident here in Sioux Falls back in the 1960s. When it failed after only a year in operation, it took three years before they could ship the fuel out of here and another 20 years before the reactor cooled enough for it to be removed. Also there have been over 50 nuclear accidents in the US, most of which have received little to no publicity. The Pathfinder plant incident, didn’t even make that list.

    I am also of the generation that would have been at the age to have been outside playing when nuclear tests were done in the atmosphere, which is something that I attribute to the high incidence of cancer in my age group.

  28. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-22


    In a perfect world we would all get along without any nuclear weapons. But that is not the world we find ourselves today. If we didn’t have a nuclear arsenal, there are several nations that would not hesitate to use theirs. So we are on the right path of getting everyone to slowly reduce theirs in parallel. So if we have a nuclear arsenal, it might as well be up to date and accident-free. That is all that I am saying.

    The Pathfinder plant was interesting from a design perspective, because it was based on superheated steam, but that may have been the key issue that led to its shutdown. Nevertheless, the crew that worked on Pathfinder gained valuable experience for building plants like the one at Monticello.

    We ingest naturally-occurring radioisotopes every single day. That includes uranium, thorium, and potassium-40. These isotopes are a part of nature. Human biology does quite well at dealing with these minor elements and the low doses of radiation they produce.

    When those levels get too high, or the concentrations are large enough for the chemistry to have an impact, then biological systems can be stressed.

    It is the experience from nuclear weapons development and the effects of nuclear weapons that health effects are linearly related to the radiation dose at LARGE doses. At background levels it is less clear that the linear model holds true. But we conservatively apply that linear model in nuclear safety and assume all doses contribute. That has led to a lot of additional concrete shielding at power plants that help drive up the initial costs of construction.

    Generally if the doses are lower than what you get in an average year (in fact several times that value), then there have been no proven health effects. You may want to check things like drinking, smoking, and diet of various generations before blaming radiation. The Health Physics Society supports a good site that will answer (and have already answered) a lot of questions about radiation and its impacts.

    I surmise that stressing about the effects of low doses of radiation causes more harm than the actual radiation itself. Three Mile Island had a much greater impact on the public psyche regarding nuclear power than any real health effect…the doses measured were just too low.

  29. Lanny V Stricherz 2016-06-22

    No, Dr McTaggert, in a perfect world, nuclear energy would have never been pursued and certainly not for weapons.

    By the way, why is this disclaimer posted on your opeds in the Argus Leader now?
    “Dr. Robert McTaggart, Brookings, is an associate professor of physics and coordinator of nuclear education at South Dakota State University. While he is an employee of SDSU, and therefore, the State of South Dakota, he does not speak for SDSU and does not speak for the State of South Dakota.”

  30. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-23

    No, in a perfect world physics would allow machines to operate with 100% efficiency and produce no waste at all….which is not allowed because of the Laws of Thermodynamics (all physical processes increase the entropy, i.e. the disorder, of the universe). That includes heat that is released into the environment.

    Nuclear energy produces the least amount of waste of any energy source that we use today. Maybe fusion could give it a run for the money if they ever figured it out.

    The views in my articles are my own. Even though I work for them, I am not representing SDSU nor the state in an official capacity by writing these articles. The reader can weigh the opinions delivered accordingly.

  31. 1254 2016-06-23

    Since when do we take emotion out our decision making process.

  32. Adam 2016-06-24

    McTaggert, the fact that you think that there is even a 1% chance that people like me might think that ANY TYPE of power generation might actually be completely pollution-free, is just one of the things that makes me question your intellect.

    The amount of pollution derived from anything, is not so much measured by weight. It is calculated by how destructive the waste products are in combination with the raw quantity. Nuclear is well recognized as a dying dirty power source. Your beliefs are antiquated, and I am a very pro-science kind of guy.

  33. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-24

    Adem, Adem, Adem,

    How can you be pro-science when you opposed a science project? You are anti-nuclear science, but nuclear science is still science.

    All forms of energy production produce waste. Nuclear generates the lowest volume of waste of any power source per kilowatt-hour. Yes it is radioactive, but the radioactivity in spent nuclear fuel can be contained by shielding. Dry concrete casks on the site of the power plants do that with wastes today (in part because the waste cannot be stored underground yet).

    In my opinion the wastes from wind and solar have not been considered along with the risks, benefits, and costs of the energy we use. If you can waive the environmental consequences of mining rare earth elements, of processing of technologies with acids, and the effects of fracking that occur with producing the natural gas to backup solar and wind, I really don’t see why you should have a problem with radioactive wastes. In fact, nuclear energy must account for all of its waste…the other technologies have not yet.

    Germany, Japan, and now California have embarked on a grand experiment of generating power without nuclear. Germany and Japan have replaced nuclear with coal and natural gas, and electricity prices and carbon levels have gone up…so guess what will occur in California? California has already had a massive natural gas storage leak…so naturally they will increase the amount of natural gas they store to support renewables.

  34. mike from iowa 2016-06-24

    California had an oil spill,too.

  35. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-24

    And they just ended their rebate program for electric vehicles. What happened to California being green ;^) ?

  36. Donald Pay 2016-06-24

    The Pathfinder Plant was a crony capitalist enterprise. Northern States Power received handouts from the Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor of the Department of Energy) to use South Dakotans as lab rats in the 1960s version of Dr. McTaggart’s “science project.” That there wasn’t much radioactive leakage out of the plant during a near catastrophic failure was due to the quick shut down of the plant when it started shaking uncontrollably. Dr. Thompson, who was a physics professor at Augustana College, told me once that there was evidence of some elevated radioactivity right after the shut down. I’m not sure if he measured it, or if he heard about or saw data.

    As was indicated above by Lanny, the Pathfinder Plant was decommissioned in two phases. The first phase occurred within a few years of the accident. During this phase a lot of the piping was cut, taken down and left to sit in the plant for 20 years to “cool down” the radioactivity. Within about 12 years the plumbers, steamfitters, etc., who did the work ended up with health problems, mostly cancers and other lung problems from inhaling a mixture of radioactive particles and asbestos. Most ended up dying during the period of the Chem-Nuclear debate in the early to mid 1980s. NSP made them sign non-disclosure statements in exchange for giving them and their families free medical care and monetary settlements. I don’t know if lillymunster found out in more about these folks and what they died from, but I think she was doing some research on that at one time.

    I was able to tour the Pathfinder Plant when I intervened in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings for the final decommissioning in the early 1990s. I saw the stacked pipe and went into the containment area. The reactor vessel was filled with concrete, which made it very heavy. They needed special trucks to get it out, and then loaded it and the rest of the waste on special railcars for the trip out to Hanford, I believe.

    Leading the tour through the plant was Angus Anson, who had been a vocal proponent of siting Chem-Nuclear low-level radioactive waste dump for, I believe, the SD Farm Bureau. He had cashiered this effort into a cushy job with NSP. He was soon killed in the same plane crash that killed Governor George MIckelson.

  37. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-25

    Here are a couple of articles by James Conca in Forbes regarding the impact of radiation on human health. Doses available within the nuclear power plant (let alone in the surrounding area) are very low due to all of the shielding, and thus have no impact on human health.

    I think one of the leaders of the Sierra Club came out and said they were against coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear. I had high hopes that they were actually going to take a step in fighting climate change and producing the amount of clean energy we will need by at least maintaining the carbon-free energy nuclear provides today.

    One would need to replace about 79 quadrillion BTU out of the 88 quadrillion BTU in energy that we produce today (see above). Given current production levels of solar and wind it will be difficult to make that up.

    Further complicating the issue is the lack of a commercially-viable means of energy storage (which would benefit nuclear too), the need to burn natural gas to make up the difference (which means you grow it as a backup instead of replacing it), and the lower capacities of solar and wind (which means you would need to overbuild the infrastructure for the same power).

    I would like to see the issues of environmental impact and their own forms of waste addressed for all forms of energy production. If you factor in things like carbon, cost, performance, safety, and environmental impact into a broad assessment for energy, you will come up with a reduced contribution of fossil fuels, more solar/wind, and more nuclear.

  38. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-25

    Everybody wants to go back to the Moon or back to Mars, but in those cases radiation is likely the primary problem for human travelers (low gravity is also a problem). That is where the advances in radiation biology and treating radiation damage would really be helpful.

    Does human biology need some radiation in order to hone immune and repair systems? A shielded location in Homestake would be the place to study the impact of a zero radiation environment. I tried and failed to get that going once before. But that may also provide some insight into the biological response to radiation.

    Most of the radiation in space comes from galactic or solar protons, but there are secondary neutrons that are produced when the former hit the shell of the spacecraft. It is anticipated that about 25% of the dose that astronauts receive during a trip to Mars will come from neutrons. There are also other heavy ions, with iron delivering a relatively high contribution due to its mass and charge.

    Shielding helps, but typically shielding is heavy, which makes it expensive to launch into space. Once you get to the Moon or Mars, then you can use all the rock/dirt you want, but not in space. Could you actively deflect particles with your own magnetic field like the earth does? Perhaps, but you would need a big power source. Nuclear propulsion techniques have been proposed to speed up the journey to Mars, reducing the dose received as a result.

    Space radiation is also a hurdle for the holy grail of solar power: Continuous 24/7 power from the sun in space beamed back to the earth. Lots of empty space out there to collect it. But radiation and thermal cycling impact the efficiency of solar cells. Some combination of reflectors and detectors that are robust to radiation would be of interest, and would extend the lifetimes of solar cells used on earth.

  39. mike from iowa 2016-06-25

    What happened to California going green? Years of drought which turned California brown. Although the drumpster fire known as Drumpf claimed the drought a hoax.

    I’ll believe my lying eyes long before I believe anything Drumpf says.

  40. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-25

    Some of the newer designs for nuclear power plants would not use water to moderate neutrons or cool the reactor. Other materials would serve that purpose. Carbon dioxide and molten salts would change the design features, but they would work. Air cooling is possible. Such reactors would be drought tolerant, as opposed to coal and hydropower today in South Dakota.

    As a result, reactors could be sited away from any water source and away from any earthquake zones.

  41. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-25


    If we could only find some way to convert the energy emanating from Donald Trump’s ego into electricity, all of our energy worries would be solved.

  42. Craig 2016-06-27

    T: “Craig @932. (Johnson)?”

    Not a Johnson, so if you ever see that guy don’t blame him for my words.

    T: “Think you are confused, “ignorant against science’ a lot of opposition held higher education degrees than the spink county commissioners if that’s how you are “rating” ignorance vs non ignorance , btw I think the 4 out of 5 commissioners are very educated”

    Holding a degree doesn’t necessarily correlate with intelligence. That is even more true when the degree has nothing to do with science. Someone who has a degree in Philosophy or English Literature most likely doesn’t have a background in the sciences. However the larger point is a degree doesn’t not somehow eradicate ignorance. There are a lot of people who hold PhDs which are ignorant about subjects beyond their scope. I hold several degrees, but if you asked me to remove someone’s appendix or design a bridge capable of supporting a fully loaded train I’m afraid I’d have to admit my ignorance and defer to the experts.

    You mentioned the commissioners voted the will of the people, but when we elect leadership we do so because we expect them to vote for what is best for the people. Sometimes that requires them to vote for long term benefit even if it isn’t the popular choice today. If we just wanted them to blindly vote based upon what is popular they wouldn’t need to exist as we could just have a true democracy where all decisions are based upon a popular vote.

    If history has taught us anything, it should be that often the people are wrong. We shouldn’t make decisions based upon a mob mentality which doesn’t have the interest or desire to learn all the facts before casting a vote. That is why our government has elected leaders, because we live in a representative republic… not a true democracy.

    Bottom line is the people in Spink County, and those members of the commission based their feelings upon rumor and fear rather than fact. There were open promises from all levels of government which were even in writing. There were also promises to turn the site over to the state for education purposes. Yet Spink County didn’t trust it – one can argue that lack of trust is due to past failures on behalf of the government, but this isn’t a backdoor deal where the details were hidden from public view. Everything was in writing and available, yet fear and ignorance drove the residents in Spink County to push against the project.

    It wasn’t about education – it was about fearing what they didn’t understand. It is a loss for Spink County and a loss for the nation as a whole.

  43. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-27

    Interesting, Craig. One of the political philosophers I read at SDSU (Rousseau?) said something along these lines: the general will may be mistaken, but the general will is never wrong.

    The majority spoke in Spink County. They rejected science, regulations, and assurances from public officials in favor of fear, rumor, and a few inconvenient examples like the Wasta drilling snafu. Whatever the merits of the majority position, the majority position has ruled. And as long as the majority isn’t wielding its power to impose some sort of unconstitutional restriction on a minority, that’s o.k.

    I’m even more encouraged by this popular victory by the fact that the folks who lost were the big guys, the ones with power (Daugaard), influence (Wilson), and money (Battelle). They promised Spink County and South Dakota millions of dollars, yet the general public proved they are not willing to do anything for a buck, and their county commission backed them up. The resistance to the borehole provides one hopeful example that power and money won’t always win in South Dakota, a lesson that I hope will carry over to a few other battles coming up this year.

  44. Dicta 2016-06-27

    “The resistance to the borehole provides one hopeful example that power and money won’t always win in South Dakota”

    Neither will science, apparently. It feels weird to applaud that sort of pearl clutching.

  45. Paul Seamans 2016-06-27

    Science and learning is great. But do I really need to know the geology of what is three miles below my feet when I do not trust the people who are doing this research. With Gov. Daugaard and Heather Wilson involved in this project I opt to say no to this project.

  46. Craig 2016-06-27

    @ Paul – it seems a bit short-sighted to reject a project based upon a personal dislike of some of the distant players. I’d like to think we would consider the merits of a project long before any personal bias comes into play. In the same vein, I wouldn’t reject a new dam, Interstate Highway, or bridge based upon who happened to be in the White House when the appropriations bill was signed regardless of how much I might disagree with him/her politically.

    @Douglas – Zero-energy homes are fantastic. Unfortunately our homes are not responsible for the majority of energy used and only account for approximately 1/10th of the energy usage in our nation. It seems the need to find more energy won’t be disappearing anytime soon, and it is doubtful we are going to be able to rely upon a single source to satisfy our growing appetite.

  47. Paul Seamans 2016-06-27

    Craig, I may not understand the relative merits or need for drilling a hole three miles into the ground but I think that I understand Dennis Daugaard’s idea of economic development for South Dakota. That is what I base my comments on, right or wrong.

  48. Douglas Wiken 2016-06-27

    Craig, I don’t find your figure at that link. Perhaps I missed something.
    “In 2014, 41% of all the energy consumed in the United States went to powering homes and commercial buildings.”

    Also, the guy with the zero energy house was also using energy for vehicle use.

    “The United States uses 28% of its total energy each year to move people and goods from one place to another. The transportation sector includes many modes, from personal vehicles and large trucks to public transportation (buses, trains) to airplanes, freight trains, ships and barges, and pipelines. By far the largest share is consumed by cars, light trucks, and motorcycles—about 58% in 2012, followed by other trucks (21%), aircraft (9%), boats and ships (3%), and trains and buses (3%). Pipelines account for 3% and military uses for 2%.”

    That probably means about 16% of all energy consumed is used by cars, light trucks, and motorcycles. 41% plus 16% is 57% of all energy. Converting all of that to wind and solar which is not impossible, would not be an insignificant change.

  49. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-27


    It is correct to say that the majority of those who communicated their opinions were against the borehole. But there still has not been a vote on anything with regard to the borehole. Maybe this is how our democracy works in reality today, but is it the standard you really want to have followed for the other consent-based issues you care about?

  50. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-06-27

    Dang, you’re particular, Robert! :-)

    There has been no formal vote. In everything that transpired in the process before Battelle pulled the plug, there was no legal provision for a formal public vote. Battelle could have applied for its variance, the county commission could have approved, activists might have failed to collect enough valid signatures, and vroom vroom! would go the drills without any formal courthouse count of the popular will.

    What just happened in Spink County arguably better reflects the popular will than the above scenario would have. People showed up to oppose the project. No one locally showed up to support it. The commission responded to a manifestation of the popular will that was as clear as anything we can get short of a formal vote (and remember, even formal votes are not the true majority, just the majority of the folks who show up on election day).

    I’d adopt your hesitance, Robert, if I heard aggrieved parties in Spink County saying, “Hey! Our support for the Borehole never received a fair hearing!” If those aggrieved supporters rise up, we’ll talk. Is anyone in Spink County disappointed in this outcome?

  51. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-27

    In order to fight climate change, the transportation sectors across the globe needs to be changed. Some of that would be electric passenger trains, some would use alternative fuels (including hydrogen), and some would use electrified cars. A lot of the new pollution from transportation will come from the Third World as their consumers start to buy cars.

    I don’t see this being accomplished with zero carbon emissions without nuclear either generating hydrogen for fuel cells or charging up batteries or providing the energy to process biofuels.

    I suppose those pictures of the work on the pipeline on the blog were not “clean pictures”, i.e. no fossil fuel was consumed in order to visit the site and collect the pictures.

  52. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-27

    I stipulate that a vote would probably not have resulted in an approval. But as you have seen with the Brexit vote, the outcome is never known until the votes are counted.

    And even after that, a lot of people still want a do-over, which may be what would have happened also if the borehole were actually approved.

  53. Donald Pay 2016-06-27

    If you look through all the the literature on consent-based siting, you will see that DOE and anyone else that has written on the subject never mention anything about allowing a vote of the public, requiring a vote of the public, or actually adhering to whatever the results of a vote of the public are. What they write about mostly is how they get the camel’s nose under the tent. What they say they want is to find some compliant local/state government that will provide some official stamp of approval for “studies” or “research.” Once they have got that, they assume they have achieved “consent.” Some of the literature talks about various points at which consent can be withdrawn or renegotiated. All this, of course, is all hypothetical since there really is no “consent-based siting” process in statute or rules.

  54. grudznick 2016-06-27

    What happened with The Borehole in Spink County is kind of like what happens in District 19. A 20% minority of whiners show up at a 80% turnout rate while an 80% majority of common sense people show up at a 20% turnout rate. Whether voting or whining to the legitimate media the result is pretty much the same.

    I suspect that ultimately resistance to The Borehole is futile. Like in this picture my friend Lar sent me a blue link to.

    I never knew Lar was into physics or electricity.

  55. grudznick 2016-06-27

    I think Mr. Pay may be right about that nose and tent thing. I believe I have look through most or at least 80% of the literature on these issues. Much of it twice. And the nose and tent thing makes sense to me.

  56. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-27

    Technically, it is a camel’s nose he is talking about….no ordinary nose ;^).

    Recall that Battelle had stated no waste in writing, and would support allowing the county to designate a third party to monitor the site so that no waste could be brought in. It is just that the opponents do not believe them or the state.

    While imperfect, a vote is at least hard evidence to consider in a consent-based siting process. That is one result of the experience with Yucca Mountain. So yes, DOE definitely would be more interested in sites that would support hosting a waste facility. However, I note that there are such areas in Utah, New Mexico, and Texas, and new waste facilities have not been approved yet. So there are other factors involved.

    Retrievability may become the key issue in consent-based siting. It would in effect allow communities to retract their consent at a later date. Communities would not face a long-term Brexit-like set of consequences for a vote that occurs once.

    Retrievability would also permit wastes from a once-through cycle to be extracted for recycling at a later date, and for these military wastes one could retrieve them and use them for other radiological purposes if desired. That is probably the biggest challenge for a deep borehole process….if the wastes are not retrievable, then what kinds of consideration for local consent must be available?

  57. Craig 2016-06-28

    @Douglas – need to read a bit further down.

    “According to the EIA, total residential energy consumption has varied between 9.5 and 10.5 quads during the past 30 years—about one-tenth of total U.S. energy consumption from all sources”

    People often forget how much energy some businesses require. A steel mill for example probably uses as much energy as tens of thousands homes. We also need to factor in the energy used to supply their raw materials including the energy for mining not only the steel, but also the coal which is often used in their furnaces. Add in all the transportation costs of raw materials and finished products and it becomes clear why residential homes are only using about 10% of the energy in our nation.

    I’m all for wind and solar and electric vehicles, but that isn’t a realistic short-term or perhaps even medium term solution for our total energy needs. We are talking decades upon decades for such a migration, and even then we may still need more traditional sources for when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing or when there is greater demand… unless new technologies for storage are implemented or we find other green alternatives.

    This is why Nuclear is such a viable solution. People fear it because of past failures and likely because we have spent the last 50 years being told that nuclear bombs could be the end of civilization, but as far as an energy source nuclear has a much lower impact than coal or natural gas and is much safer. It is sad that we have let fear and ignorance drive the conversation… but it is nothing new.

  58. Douglas Wiken 2016-06-28

    I have not put all information together yet, but much of what I have found so far indicates that total costs of nuclear power plants has greatly increased and when those construction costs are included rather than just looking at the costs of fuel, the nuclear power is much more expensive.

  59. Craig 2016-06-28

    You’re probably right – but one has to wonder how much of that cost is due to the regulatory burden that stems from decades of public fear surrounding nuclear power. I recall reading about some of the advances GE had made in their reactor designs for nuclear power, yet these ultra safe designs weren’t found anywhere on American soil due to the inability to get approval for a new nuclear plant. They had great success exporting them to other nations however.

    I have always found it interesting that our Navy can operate submarines and aircraft carriers with nuclear reactors without much complaint from citizens, but the second someone proposes a new nuclear power facility on dry land there is public outrage.

  60. Douglas Wiken 2016-06-28

    I haven’t finished digging yet, but what I found did not suggest that increased regulation was the major problem. Public fear of nuclear power was also not found to be a serious factor…but part of the myths. Increased building costs primarily cause problems all over the world for nuclear reactor building with current Uranium based systems.

    I think GE reactor designs, whether stolen or sold, were used for the reactors that failed in the flood, etc in Japan.

  61. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-28

    Will the existing nuclear plants be allowed to generate carbon-free electricity? Will the smaller reactors that reduce various upfront costs and provide flexibility be licensed and deployed? Will the advanced reactors (which could include Thorium-based reactors) come into fruition?

    If those three things can happen, then there is actually a chance of turning the tide on global warming.

    The reactors in Japan all survived the earthquake. They shut down safely. The major problem was the tsunami washing away backup fuel and backup generators, so there was no emergency power to cool reactors while the grid was disconnected. These reactors did not have the passive safety systems that use convection to remove heat that would have given them some extra time.

    However, an underlying factor was NIMBY. Instead of spreading the reactors around, 6 reactors were built in proximity to each other on the only land available, so some problems were compounded. They did not have the staff nor a plan that would address problems with all 6 going bad at the same time.

    Nobody was interested in spending the money that would have been necessary, or doing things better from the get-go, until after the fact. That is a people problem, not a nuclear engineering problem.

  62. grudznick 2016-06-28

    That makes sense to me, Dr. McTaggart. There are just people who NIMBY about everything and then pout when it comes back to bite them in the keisters. It’s like that SDDC place people want to shut down. I think this should shut it down, and then since it’s in Spink County right in prime bedsrock territory they could dig The Borehole out there in the middle of some state ground and nobody could even complain. Could I not dig a hole as deep as I want in my own back yard? I think the state could, or even might in the dead of night and nobody would even know.

  63. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-28

    I think people would notice if they tried to start a drilling operation on state land with all of that equipment :^).

    I guess if you want to use a shovel, call 811 (I think) to mark the utilities and start digging. But if you have to bring in heavy equipment, and you are doing anything other than planting a tree or setting up a garden, all sorts of permits are necessary.

  64. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-28

    I guess you have not seen the Three Stooges try to dig a deep hole with shovels. Things fall apart when dirt can no longer be thrown out of the hole.

  65. Donald Pay 2016-06-28

    Grudz said: “…they could dig The Borehole out there in the middle of some state ground and nobody could even complain.”

    That is exactly what I expected would happen. In fact it’s what they tried to do in North Dakota, but somehow the country had some sort of control, and ND’s Governor backed the state out. There would have to be state permits to complete a project like that. I’m not sure what a county could do, but I’m sure they could shut down some roads if they really didn’t like what was going on.

  66. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-28

    In order to drill down 3 miles you need heavy equipment, so good luck trying to sneak that past grudznick.

  67. jerry 2016-06-28

    Some BLM land is so remote, that a deep drill could happen without anyone’s knowledge. Some years back, in Mellette County, there were truckload after truckload of medical waste being dumped on isolated land. That is a big deal when 18 wheelers can come and go at all hours dumping this without worry.

  68. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-28

    I’m sure you could see something from drilling operations by satellite in the most remote of places…heat, light, disturbed land, etc. can stand out in a before/after picture.

    Illegal drive-by dumping can be over quickly, but drilling a 3 mile hole would take a lot of time and infrastructure.

  69. grudznick 2016-06-28

    When they close this SDDC I just bet you there are gymnasiums or even places where a big circus tent could be erected. They could march their rigs into the gym and start drilling away, with the building absorbing much of the sound and the nearest property boundary a mile away. Signs would prevent lookieloos because after all this would be a closed state facility and they would shoot looters and such.

    And, SDDC is right over the middle of the rocks they want to study.

  70. grudznick 2016-06-28

    And once The Borehole had been dug, they would have dormitories and mess halls to feed all the visiting scientists and tourists.

  71. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-28

    Don’t forget to camouflage the tents so it looks like the surrounding terrain.

    But you would still have heat signatures and vibrations that could be picked up with seismic detectors.

    Maybe each night you could dig out the borehole with a spoon, and then during the day cover up the borehole with a poster of Rita Hayworth. And then right before you are done, go to all of the South Dakota banks, close your accounts, and move to Mexico. It’s worked before…

  72. grudznick 2016-06-28

    Dr. McTaggart, I was actually thinking about how they might disperse the diggings and that movie came to mind as well. You and I, sir, we are both men of science.

  73. Donald Pay 2016-06-28


    How that medical waste dump came to light was really interesting. This was on Indian land. The company was picking up medical waste from Denver area hospitals and instead of disposing of it in a legal way, decided they could make more money if they just opened up a dump in Indian country. They employed a few tribal members to unload and doze the stuff.

    So, what was in this waste? Well, mostly a bunch of gowns and gloves, tissue samples, vials and needles. This was before sharps disposal and biohazard regulations, so all this infectious material was coming to the rez.

    This thing had been operating for maybe a month and a Native American man who was working at the dump called the Technical Information Project with this wild story. My ex-wife took the call. He said at first he didn’t think anything about it, but then there came a number of loads that freaked him out. He was talking to my ex-wife about it, and finally he says something like, “There’s severed legs and arms and heads. Who are these guys? Maybe they’re the Mob.”

    So we contacted the DENR, who more or less investigated it and said it was on Indian land and they had no jurisdiction. But the tribe finally got it shut down. I guess the hospitals were aghast, but they sure hadn’t done much to check out this company before hand. I’m not sure whether that stuff is still buried there or whether the company had to disinter the severed body parts.

  74. Donald Pay 2016-06-28

    Just read your case cite. This one is different from the one I related. I think I’m confusing two different instances of med waste dumping.

  75. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-28


    It does make you wonder why Cory walks around the courtyard just long enough to empty his pockets out of any dirt or gravel ;^).

  76. leslie 2016-06-30

    Paul, do you know what the PIERRE SHALE concept is yet or is there a citation somewhere? this is sdsm&t area of expertise perhaps and I suspect part of pres. heather Wilson’s assignment from Regents.

  77. Robert McTaggart 2016-06-30


    The reason to consider shale as a material for a waste repository is that it could share several properties with the salts currently found at the WIPP repository. In essence, you want the material to close in around whatever you put down there over a long time (i.e. it is self-sealing).

    Here is a more technical synopsis from 2010 about shale in general. You really need to have a thorough understanding what the shale will do and how it will behave before you can even consider its use in any repository.

  78. jerry 2016-06-30

    Yes, Mr. Pay, there was more than one incident. One was on tribal ground and the other one was not. No matter what, in western South Dakota, you can do a whole lot of things under everyone’s nose and they will not smell a thing. It would not surprise me a bit to find that some kind of drill or dig was done under authority from some higher up that was never found until long after the fact. Such is life when you live within the confines of an organized gang thugs and miscreants. It all begs the question of why do we tolerate this?

  79. grudznick 2016-06-30

    Dr. McTaggart, I expect that Mr. H will be leaving small trails of dirt all over Pierre should he get elected to the legislatures.

  80. Robert McTaggart 2016-07-01

    Does uranium from seawater make nuclear energy effectively a renewable??

    “Nuclear fuel made with uranium extracted from seawater makes nuclear power completely renewable. It’s not just that the 4 billion tons of uranium in seawater now would fuel a thousand 1,000-MW nuclear power plants for a 100,000 years. It’s that uranium extracted from seawater is replenished continuously, so nuclear becomes as endless as solar, hydro and wind.”

    The hypothesis is that uranium would leach from the ocean floor, etc. to replenish the current equilibrium concentrations of uranium in seawater for the next billion years or so. The key driver in making that happen is lowering the cost of extraction.

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