Energy Department Rebids Borehole Project

The U.S. Department of Energy is soliciting new bids for the Deep Borehole Field Test:

The U.S. Department of Energy, Idaho Operations Office (DOE-ID) requests proposals for a Deep Borehole Field Test. The project’s objectives are to test the feasibility of characterizing and engineering deep boreholes; confirm the viability of geologic controls over waste stability in a deep geological environment; obtain data on the geological, hydrological, geochemical, and geomechanical characteristics of the deep borehole environment that can be used to inform DOE on future decisions; and to test safety and practicality of engineering deep boreholes and borehole sealing concepts. All work to be accomplished under any contract resulting from this solicitation will be performed without the use of any radioactive waste [U.S. Department of Energy, Solicitation #DE-SOL-0010181, “RFP for Deep Borehole Field Test: Characterization Borehole Investigations,” synopsis, updated 2016.08.22].

This is the second go-round for the Borehole project, following the failure of DOE and its first contractor, Battelle of Ohio, to secure local approval for proposed test sites in Pierce County, North Dakota, and Spink County, South Dakota. DOE and Battelle dropped their contract in July; DOE appears to have posted the solicitation notice on August 5. DOE will hold a Pre-Proposal Conference in Las Vegas September 13 at the Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino. New bids are due October 21. DOE plans to award contracts around January 16, 2017.

Like the first Borehole RFP, this pre-solicitation notice says that “No radioactive waste will be used in these tests.” The parameters of the project appear the same: one 8.5-inch-wide hole drilled 5,000 meters down to characterize the rock, then possibly a full-size 17-inch borehole to test “emplacement activities using surrogate waste canisters.” The bidder must also identify a specific site that meets the following criteria:

  • Crystalline basement rock 2,000 meters or less from the surface.
  • Site large enough to accommodate two drilling operations at least 200 meters apart, along with room for heavy equipment to move around, plus on-site labs.
  • Site outside wetlands and 100-year flood zones.
  • Absence of ground water recharge at depth.
  • Low geothermal heat flux (Tripp County is out)
  • Tectonic stability and no recent (i.e., last 2.6 million years) volcanoes or faulting within 10 kilometers.

DOE expects the winning contractor to be able to drill the first 5,000-meter hole in seven months with deviation from vertical no more than 100m at the bottom (that’s less than 1.15°).

DOE also expects the contractor to do lots of public outreach:

Public Outreach: The Contractor will be responsible for commencing public outreach and continuing public outreach during all contract phases. The term “public” includes federal, state and local governments; affected tribes; citizens; tribal members; citizen groups; tribal groups; and other interested stakeholders. Public outreach involves providing information and education about the project necessary to obtain public support for the project. The process must be open and transparent. Because public support is necessary for successful project completion, public outreach is a critical aspect of contract performance[DOE Pre-Solicitation Notice for “RFP for Deep Borehole Field Test: Characterization,” RFP #DE-SOL-0010181, issued 2016.08.05].

The contractor has to have a “Public Outreach Liaison” living near the Borehole site throughout the project. The contractor must also mitigate damages and provide” constructive benefits” to the community, like STEM education programs for local schools.

DOE is dividing the project into five phases:

  1. Commencement of public outreach, team kickoff meeting, and securing site.
  2. Completion of all regulatory approvals (federal, tribal, state, and local).
  3. Preparation of final drilling and test plan.
  4. Drilling and testing.
  5. Site management and maintenance.

DOE appears to intend to issue contracts to multiple bidders and authorize them to continue work phase by phase. DOE will weed contractors out after Phase 2 based on “degree of public acceptance of the project” along with geological quality of the site and the contractor’s technical, regulatory, and financial performance. DOE will “down select” contractors again after Phase 3, to the single contractor with the most viable drilling and testing plan.

Will the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology call up Parsons Brinckerhoff and try bidding for the Borehole again? Keep an eye out for Mines profs (and maybe President Heather Wilson and the Governor) Tweeting from Vegas on September 13!

45 Responses to Energy Department Rebids Borehole Project

  1. I just can’t help but think it’s wasteful, bloated, reckless big government spending to drill a $38 million hole in the ground just for testing – with a guarantee of no possibility of using the hole later on for nuclear waste – when they could darn well just go ahead and propose a potential nuclear toxic waste disposal purpose for the hole location before they dig it.

    It would save us all $38 million hard earned tax dollars if they could just find a place to drill a test hole where the residents are ok with a potential nuclear waste dump later on.

  2. Donald Pay

    These guys never learn. They haven’t taken any time to formulate any plans or rules regarding consent-based siting after holding six months of hearings. They just intend to stick this project wherever they can find a governor dumb enough, and some bought off academics corrupt enough to shill for the project.

  3. Donald Pay

    In my comments on consent-based siting I warned about use of the Department of Energy solicitation process as being inappropriate with consent-based siting. That process is secretive and not conducive with open and honest discussion. So, of course. they are using the solicitation process.

  4. There is no reason for nuke power in this day of age as we presently have more than we can use. We could use those millions wasted on this to expand the grid and upgrade it. Renewables are the ticket to much cleaner and more reliable energy than worrying about the dangers of nukes.

  5. Robert McTaggart

    $38 million would be money well spent if the actual waste disposal site were constructed correctly the first time. Recall that they are trying to successfully drill very straight holes in progressively more complicated geologies.

    The locations of the test site and the actual disposal site may not be close to each other. With regard to transportation issues, it would be beneficial for the permanent disposal location to be closer to the temporary storage site. However, it would not surprise me that an additional test would occur at any proposed permanent repository prior to any delivery of wastes.

    Public consent is great as long as it coincides with what we think should happen, regardless of the merits of the process itself. That’s politics I guess.

  6. Robert McTaggart

    The state of New York disagrees with you Jerry. They are going to help their current power plants continue to operate longer. Otherwise, they would have to replace old nuclear with natural gas, wind, and solar….thus releasing more carbon in the name of reducing carbon.

    In 20 years the situation will be different. The large reactors will still be expensive, but would be better suited to power large cities. Smaller reactors will be available and cheaper, and they will boost renewables with better load-following characteristics in a distributed energy grid. Then you wouldn’t have to burn as much natural gas.

  7. Robert McTaggart

    Technically, nuclear could become a “renewable” if the extraction of uranium from seawater ever became feasible. Nature would work to maintain the 3 parts per billion concentration of uranium in the oceans via chemistry.

    But you would still have the waste issues to solve.

  8. Douglas Wiken

    Utilities are charging consumers premium rates generating piles of money which will likely never build a nuclear plant because of increased costs. Current nuclear designs are not an answer. No nuclear plants should be built until rational disposal of waste is arrived at. Drilling holes thousands of feet deep costing millions does not seem to be a rational answer. $38 million might pay for over 100 years of continuous guarding of a relatively shallow disposal in a remote area.

  9. Robert McTaggart

    The present solicitation is not for commercial wastes, as those are not designed to be disposed of in this manner. But if somebody were to figure out how to do it for commercial wastes, the costs have to be lower than the Yucca Mountain type of repository.

    I do not support the deep borehole method for commercial wastes from the once-through fuel cycle. I would rather reprocess the fuel prior to any isolation with this method. Advanced nuclear would reduce the amount of waste produced per kilowatt further.

    $38 million now will avoid billions of dollars in unwanted construction costs later, and allow the decommissioning of facilities that currently store these wastes and use taxpayer money.

  10. “Renewable nuclear power” -LOL- the most toxic and dangerous renewable.

  11. Robert McTaggart

    Don’t forget the heavy metals used in solar and the rare earths used in wind, the measures to mine and process those, nor the chemical wastes. Nor the reconcentration of NORMs from fracking necessary to produce the natural gas that solar and wind use when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

    Ahh, I can just feel the sun on my face and the wind in my hair…. ;^).

    But that is why solar, wind, and nuclear should be working together…to complement each other and produce the power we need without emitting carbon.

  12. Robert McTaggart

    Public consent may be easier to get if retrievability is feasible. If the repository isn’t working as expected, or if the public changes its mind, or maybe you want to inspect or test things, then containers can be removed and placed elsewhere. If reprocessing becomes more feasible, then the wastes could be removed, processed, and reduced in both volume and radioactivity.

  13. Robert McTaggart

    Public consent may be easier to get if retrievability is feasible. If the repository isn’t working as expected, or if the public changes its mind, or maybe you want to inspect or test things, then containers can be removed and placed elsewhere. If reprocessing becomes more feasible, then the wastes could be removed, processed, and reduced in both volume and radioactivity.

  14. Adam – just FYI – more people have died from us utilizing coal as an energy source as have ever died due to nuclear power. In fact it isn’t even close.

    Nuclear is actually quite clean and less harmful to humans (and the environment) when all aspects are considered. I know people get scared when they hear about radiation, but our Earth is full of radiation (why do you think people need to install radon mitigation systems in so many basements?).

    In fact, did you know one of the founding members of Greenpeace actually came out in support of more nuclear energy? It is because he studied the issue and realized how much better nuclear is than many alternatives such as natural gas or coal.

    Sure solar and wind are fantastic, but we still need ways to produce power when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. One day I’m sure we will have ways of storing more power than we can use, but today we still need alternatives. Nuclear is one of those alternatives.

  15. Battery storage systems are used to create constant electricity flow from a solar or wind power generating land. When people STILL wonder just how in the heck we could ever generate power when the wind doesn’t blow or sun doesn’t shine, it demonstrates a lack of interest in keeping up with how technology has met many current needs.

    Eventually, nuclear will be phased out, perhaps after we are all dead, I am sure.

    Craig, “when all aspects are considered” is a subjective statement dependent on one’s particular expertise in the feild.

  16. Adam – battery storage is a fine solution for SOME single family homes or small distinct structures, but it is highly dependent upon energy usage and currently isn’t cost effective for many users.

    Such battery technology doesn’t even come close to being able to cover the needs for industry and manufacturing. A single steel mill for example uses more power than tens of thousands of homes. Batteries are also not feasible for large commercial structures like retail stores, office buildings, apartment buildings etc. The cost, maintenance, and footprint of such batteries is simply too large.

    Frankly Adam when you suggest batteries as the solution for energy storage, it shows that it is you who has failed to keep up. There are many alternatives for energy storage which are far more realistic and useful on the large scale. This includes storing heat in molten salts, air compression, pumping water behind a hydro electric generating plant (within a dam) to release during times of energy need, and even using excess power to push electric trains up a mountain which can then be used to generate power when needed on the way back down.

    No offense, but batteries are not currently the answer on any large scale. If you wanted a battery bank capable of offsetting a commercial solar array it would have to be massive, and even then there are a lot of environmental concerns with batteries due to the materials within them and the energy used to produce them. Battery technology continues to improve, but even Elon Musk has admitted they have gone about as far as they can with the current technology. We are going to need to see alternatives if we want to store sufficient amounts of power and having large banks of batteries in every home and office is not efficient using current technologies.

  17. Daniel Buresh

    Adam, anything recent to support your statements? Most of the research I have read is not looking good for energy storage systems when considering energy-in vs energy-out equations and the costs associated with each. I don’t think the transition we have to make in the short term is ever going to happen without nuclear. Unfortunately, most people hear nuclear and think the worst because they have been conditioned to think that.

  18. Robert McTaggart

    There is a lot of sentiment for doing everything with solar and wind. I would rather let solar and wind be themselves.

    That means (a.) finding applications that do not mind the intermittency and (b.) allowing solar and wind to supplement other tasks when possible. Let’s maximize those two areas without energy storage first, and then see what energy storage can do.

    If we ever see a breakthrough in large-scale energy storage, all forms of energy would benefit…including nuclear. But who knows, we may make more headway in waste heat recovery instead.

  19. Donald Pay

    I have to admit, I didn’t think the Department of Energy would put this out so quickly, so I had backed off tracking DOE’s activity on the deep borehole project. I assumed they would get their consent-based siting guidance figured out before taking another crack at sticking this down some poor red state’s throat. It’s clear Obama and Moniz want this to go to a red state, where they think it won’t hurt Democrats politically. As we see from Daugaard, there are red-state Republicans who will jump at the chance to swallow this nuclear waste project, and even others far worse.

    I had been tracking DOE nuclear waste issues daily, and had backed off to my usual once a month or so, because I figured Moniz was smart enough to figure out this is a political loser all the way around. But, this deep borehole project has been his pet project since he was on the Obama Administration’s Blue Ribbon study of radioactive waste matters, and, apparently, he wants to force the issue before he leaves office.

    I don’t like the desperate political games being played by Moniz. He wants to elevate his pet project above what was a pretty good consensus from the Blue Ribbon study, which put stripping DOE of nuclear waste matters and instituting consent-based siting, as priority issues. Moniz should halt this effort now.

  20. Robert McTaggart

    Is New Mexico a red state?

    I thought red states were generally not inclined to do Obama any favors unless it was in their own best interests.

    This is a problem that needs to be solved. Perhaps Dr. Moniz is trying to fulfill the nuclear waste obligations of the federal government the best he can within the constraints he must work under.

  21. This rebidding for The Borehole is a very good thing. Somebody needs The Borehole. We all will profit mentally by the things learned.

  22. You have to be smart enough to figure out which way the wind blows. We already know the sun comes out during the day, but what about when it gets dark? You give the power away for free as the wind is more active at night in the wind current zones.

    We can dance around this as much as we want to, but the fact is, we have plenty of power without any more nukes, period. We just need to invest in the grid. Pop that 38 million into engineering the grid for the future.

  23. Robert McTaggart

    I sympathize with Mr. Pay in that the Blue Ribbon Commission made a lot of good recommendations, but nobody has to follow them.

  24. Robert McTaggart

    Jerry, sure there is enough power from solar and wind sometimes….but often nobody is asking for it when it is available.

    Good luck getting the investors to sign on when you give the power away for free. Somebody would pay for that at another time…probably everyone else would pay more for the natural gas that is burned when solar/wind fail.

    Why not dedicate more wind and solar to tasks that do not need to respond to the on-time demand of consumers? For example, use wind overnight to recharge your electric car battery while you sleep.

  25. Dr. McTaggart, is there radiation deep in the bowels of the earth already today? If so, will it escape through The Borehole, when it it dug?

  26. Craig, I complete agree that there are many ways to compensate for when the sun doesn’t shine and wind doesn’t blow. I should have said, “FOR EXAMPLE: battery storage systems…” instead of accidentally giving you the impression that batteries are the entire future of renewables. But also understand that you took a small amount of liberty interpreting what I said, and that’s fine.

  27. Robert McTaggart


    Yes, there is naturally-occurring radioactivity in all things, but the trace amounts are no different above ground than below ground unless you hit a coal seam or a uranium deposit. Maybe you could see some extra Radon since it is a gas, but nothing else.

    The whole point of the borehole test is to investigate the geology before/during/after drilling to see if their defense-in-depth engineering would isolate the wastes they place underground.

    Part of that philosophy is avoiding locations that flood or have nearby water tables: Starve the site of the access to water, and you remove a pathway for dispersal if anything did make it out. Same thing applies at Yucca Mountain.

  28. Robert McTaggart

    One of the issues with energy storage is that you lose some energy in the very act of storing energy and deploying it later.

    Pumped hydro is on the order of 50% efficient I think. Plus it doesn’t necessarily respond in the same way that the demand occurs. So you may need several different types of storage from very quick supercapacitors all the way to the slow and steady rail car technologies.

    I like the concepts where instead of fueling up your car with gas, you fill it up with spherical batteries. Maybe you could still charge them at home, but they get replaced and maintained at regular intervals, like during an oil change. Or you could replace them at gas stations to get rid of the range anxiety during a long trip.

  29. Investors are already lining up for renewables. I have a theory that if the grid would be modernized and expanded with switching mechanisms of something akin to a fuse able link, the energy produced could be transmitted along those grid lines to where ever they may be needed to prevent or lower blackouts. It could be done by working with weather reports that show how wind fronts move along the coasts or in the plains, a variety of ways rather than building the most dangerous fuel there could possibly be. I can see weather patterns instantaneously on my phone that show wind direction and where the storm is. The big problem is that we are to poor morally to fix our transmission lines and to modernize them for the present and the future. I do not see anyone telling congress that something must be done before the thing crashes like it has done before. We should be working on storage, but we should also know that even with storage, the system is antiquated and failing big time.

  30. I would like to see some studies on transmission loss during non-peak hours vs. loss in energy storage. As it stands today, you can buy a battery pack for your house that pays for itself many times over by charging itself during non-peak hours while your house runs on that power during peak hours. You don’t even need a solar panel to make the thing pay for itself a few times over. There is something to be said for that.

    If we had invested the +$1 trillion spent on GWB’s “Operation Freedom” instead on a high tech decentralized smart grid (and storage technologies), we’d have been waaay better off today. This country can afford these things if we try.

  31. Robert McTaggart

    I agree with you Jerry that we need more investment in the transmission and power grid infrastructure.

    However, transmission lines also encounter NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) and BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody), as all forms of energy production do. We want energy, but do not support what is necessary to deliver that energy.

    For nuclear, waste management is one of those things that comes along with the production of the energy we use. Solar and wind and nuclear are all dependent on the transmission infrastructure.

  32. Nuke still needs transmission lines and an infrastructure that is capable of running a world leader in technology. The waste is the waste as it always is the inherent danger of nukes. I am speaking of eliminating new nuke waste and having a system that runs without the glow.

    Natives used that NIMBY and BANANA to save their lands and it got them MASSACRED through manifest destiny (see Dakota Access and the Keystone XL or the railroads or the highways or a casino in Atlantic City). The law here in America is determined on who has the thickest checkbook. If that fails, headquarter yourself out of country, preferably, Canada or some other trading partner.

  33. Robert McTaggart

    Well, this is part of the argument I have been making. If you want power, you have to generate waste of some kind. As they say, “there is no free lunch” when it comes to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.

    Solar and wind produce waste, but it is larger in volume than nuclear. Nationwide in 2015 10% of our energy came from renewables. Of that 10%, 6% came from solar, and 19% came from wind. Biomass represented almost half of the 10%, and the rest came from hydro–25%. Geothermal was at 2%.

    Let’s say the size of the pie will grow by 25% by 2040, but you want solar to be 25% of the new pie. You would need to increase solar by a factor of almost 50 times, which is 5000%.

    Nuclear is about 20% of our electricity and 9% of the total. The waste is radioactive, but we could reduce both the volume and the radioactivity if we moved away from the once-through cycle. If you want nuclear to be 25% of the total energy pie in a new pie that has grown by 25%, then you need to increase nuclear by 3.5 times, or 350%.

    So waste issues and land use issues will come up when trying to displace fossil fuels.

  34. maybe its time for another whitehouse energy summit, without Haliburton, dick cheney, bush, Kochs, and inclusive of wind and solar, and perhaps nuclear if McTaggart does a better job convincing us. let’s up that % of renewables subsidy to 100 like it used to be for fossil fuels!


    Stanford U’s Solutions Project has evaluated the wind, water and solar (WWS) potential for all 50 U.S. states and 139 countries around the world, including Canada, providing data on the costs and benefits for each….

    Based on Professor Mark Jacobson’s team’s research, simple graphs show the potential shift in resources to reach 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050.

  36. In the big scheme of things that have to do with power in transmission lines, who cares? As long as you do not put to much into the lines to fry them, you are okay. If you have excess, who will know as long as you are not short of power. If you have excess, you have the same as you do now only then, it would be without nukes and other dirty forms of generation.

  37. Robert McTaggart

    Excess means more heating and wear and tear of the power lines. More wear and tear means more chances for faults to occur, reduced power to the consumer, more maintenance and replacement, etc.

  38. Dr. McTaggart: 3 ppb U in seawater? O.K., so how much water would we have to process to get enough uranium to fuel a typical reactor?

  39. Precisely Dr., that is exactly what I meant about how the grid is being run presently. So the excess that we already have added to excess that we will need to keep the grid in a perfect state of use, will mean that we must rebuild the grid system in its entirety. As we do that, we can then replace antiquated switching systems that have caused the hundreds of blackouts we have already seen, into a state of the art system that will take us into the future. That future will be renewables not nukes.

  40. I have a sneaky feeling that the pollution problems resulting from pulling uranium out of sea water are similar to ISL uranium mining in aquifers. It does happen to be a very similar technology to get it out of the water; it’s sort of a giant water softener (ion exchange) system. The trouble is: when you pull uranium out of any naturally existing water, you also pull all kinds of other naturally occurring toxic heavy metal contaminants along with it.

    And then they separate the uranium from the other heavy metals, and they can even extract a small amount of profitable rare precious metals from the waste concoction. However, once they’ve produced another 55 gallon barrel of the heavy metal hazardous waste, it becomes ‘complicated’ as to where you can or should put it.

    I cannot yet imagine how extracting uranium from the sea water could be a considerably clean process.

  41. Samuel Brinton

    I just wanted to mention that as an analyst following the consent-based siting process, the comments on this and past deep borehole debacle posts have been extraordinarily constructive. Thank you for having respectful dialogue on a tough topic.

  42. Donald Pay

    According to the linked article, there are five applicants for the rebid of the borehole project. We don’t know whether South Dakota is one of them yet, but we know there is one in Quay County, New Mexico.

    I suspect we will hear something about South Dakota’s application after Senator Thune doesn’t have to answer any questions about it during the campaign. Maybe Thune needs to be asked about his past and present positions on nuclear waste matters.

  43. Robert McTaggart

    Cory: You would need to process a lot of water. But good news, there is a lot of water available in the ocean! There is definitely a lot of research going on into uranium extraction from seawater, but it isn’t economically viable…yet.

    Adam: I think the appeal of uranium from seawater is (a.) you would avoid some of the land-based methods of uranium mining (either ISL or steamshovel), and (b.) it essentially makes nuclear energy renewable for a couple billion years. It doesn’t solve the waste issues on the back-end of the cycle.

    Jerry: Apparently, Europe is already using nukes in a more flexible manner than we do in the United States. There is some additional engineering that is necessary, and the economics needs to work out here….but it is possible to replace some natural gas with nuclear energy in a decentralized grid. We vary the output of our nuclear plants over the course of 24 hours, but not as quickly as they do in Europe apparently.

    Donald: Thanks for the link. It will be interesting whether SDSMT applies again or not.

  44. Donald Pay

    Dr. McTaggart:

    I can’t figure out why Daugaard’s and Thune’s subjects can’t be privy to this information right now, can you? Is SDSM&T or any other entity in SD going to be applying for this precursor the nuclear waste dumping in the state? What has been Thune’s position on this borehole test and on radioactive waste issues in general? What is his challenger’s positions? Could they release any information on the application, if they have any such information? Certainly, you would think Daugaard would have information about this? Can he confirm or deny that an application is in or is being prepared?

  45. Robert McTaggart

    I agree that there are many that believe that a test drilling would be followed by the development of an actual deep borehole disposal site. I am not sure that those folks can be convinced otherwise regardless of how often Daugaard states that a vote would be required, nor how often the DOE states that water and transportation requirements prohibit such activity at the test sites, nor how well radiation detectors actually work to detect any radioactive material that could be delivered.

    At the end of the day, the community that would host the site will decide what they need to know in order to grant consent (whether there is radiological storage or not). Currently Trump is not releasing his tax returns, and Hillary is not releasing her speeches to the banks. They have decided what we need to know…not the other way around. The voters ultimately decide whether they are satisfied with the information they receive and the timeliness of it or not. So hang in there Mr. Pay, the political marketplace of the supply and demand of ideas will work itself out…just not right now.

    The question of nuclear waste storage in general is a valid question to pose to our representatives. Do we believe that nuclear waste storage in the United States should be made as safe as possible? Would research into the deep borehole disposal method make the process safer and cheaper for this class of wastes at the actual locations? Should we support a nuclear fuel cycle that reduces the waste that requires isolation? Should we live up to the past promises made by the federal government for isolating nuclear wastes?