Three Strikes for Battelle: Alabama County Rejects Deep Borehole Field Test

Ohio-based research and engineering firm Battelle is having a tough time convincing people to let them drill a hole. Folks in Pierce County, ND, and Spink County, SD, waved off Battelle’s effort to conduct the Deep Borehole Field Test earlier this year. Now working to secure a new Department of Energy contract to drill the five-kilometer hole and test technology for disposing of Cold War-era military nuclear waste, Battelle has backed away from Dale County, Alabama, due to public opposition (hat tip to Donald Pay!):

Dale County Commission Chairman Mark Blankenship said Southern Company, which owned the property where the hole would have been drilled, and Battelle, which would have drilled the hole, have both backed out of the proposed project.

…Blankenship said public outcry doomed the project.

“There were two dirty words involved – nuclear waste and federal government,” Blankenship said. “Those are difficult to overcome.”

The Dale County Commission had previously signed a letter in support of the project [Jim Cook, “Nuclear Waste Test Hole Project in Dale County Appears Dead,” Dothan (AL) Eagle, 2016.11.01].

Oh well. We can just leave all that military nuclear waste, piled up by doing our patriotic duty to fight Nazis, Japanese imperialists, and godless Communists, lying around in temporary holding pens.

But if we keep going down this path where we assume our own government is not us but is out to get us, if we stay stuck in a weird reverse relativism where we assume every word our government says is false, we’re in deep trouble for forming practical solutions to public problems.

27 Responses to Three Strikes for Battelle: Alabama County Rejects Deep Borehole Field Test

  1. Donald Pay

    I have submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Energy to get information about whether there is another proposal for South Dakota (and other Midwestern states). Remember when they were touting their “consent-based siting” approach? Well, apparently that doesn’t include putting out actual information about the proposals, including where (even what states) are being considered.

    In Alabama, Battelle went first to a secret executive session of a county commission to get initial “approval.” Could that already have happened in South Dakota? South Dakotans won’t know until after the elections. What is Thune’s position? What are the positions of county commissions?

    Can consent be given by folks who purposely hide information from citizens?

    I agree with Cory that we do have to, at some point, deal with this issue. The problem is when information is purposely hidden from citizens and when government agencies purposely lie about what they are doing, it makes trust impossible. The fact is the government isn’t “us” when it involves nuclear material. There is a huge security military-DOE-nuclear industry complex that is running the show. That is what needs to be buried first, before we can make any progress on these issues.

  2. Cory and Mr. Pay, are both correct on this matter. When we have government secrecy happening to not give citizens the right to know what there plan of bring dangerous toxins into close proximity, we cannot help but be skeptical of their intentions. These secrets are not national security issues, they are the complete undermining of trust. Mr. Pay, did a great job in searching the matter out, but why should we have to do that? His point of the government not being us is what scares the populace into believing such far fetched stories as Jade Helm.

    The only media we have in South Dakota are the blogs that could find the answers to what county commissioners have been approached for bore holes or other contaminants. We already know of the Azarga mining that wants to be done for uranium in South Dakota and for what? We have all of this waste that should be used before we mine any more of that poison. Enough already.
    Where are Thune, NOem and the other guy on these matters. Daugaard is all in and could then move back to Chicago when the glow starts to come here

  3. We will continually have a challenge with public approval to do anything surrounding nuclear waste, but this will be a far greater challenge in areas which don’t already contain it. If they wanted to drill this type of hole in an area which already stores the waste perhaps the public would be more receptive… but I’m skeptical.

    Ultimately we know we have a problem, and very few wish to address it. So the waste just sits at dozens of different sites around the country without any idea on how to deal with it later. It makes me wonder if one day the government (via some form of eminent domain or Congressional action) will need to mandate a solution where the people will no longer have a voice. Sounds harsh – but we as a nation have benefitted from nuclear weapons and nuclear energy so it is only fair that we as a nation also deal with the consequences.

  4. Robert McTaggart

    ….and the problem still isn’t solved. Can’t even test out possible solution methods.

    I wouldn’t say every time a potential solution is presented to the public that it is outright rejected, because there is some interest in New Mexico, but remember Battelle and DOE have said “no waste” at every turn and would allow everything to be monitored through the process.

    Heck, they have said that they want the actual disposal locations to be closer to the present storage sites due to transportation issues, and they need to test their drilling methodologies in simpler geologies to do it right the first time in a more complicated geology. Still not good enough.

    When will we stop being free riders? We want the benefits, but do not want the costs. Proper disposal is one of those costs.

    They can do hydrological tests to show whether isotopes would travel underground if various protections fail. But if they don’t drill the hole, they can’t take the data to show that it is safe. And that is what opponents do not want to happen. I don’t think even Donald can come up with a consent-based process that opponents would agree to which would allow such hydrological and geological testing to assess safety.

  5. Robert McTaggart

    Craig makes a good point about consent. The current locations of shut-down nuclear power plants did not go through any consent-based process to become what in effect is a temporary storage site. Good news for Jerry, the nuclear plant is shut down. Bad news for Jerry, he won’t approve any other location for the waste to go to. The waste actually stays on the site of the plant.

    Similarly, the present locations of the military wastes that are stored did not go through any such process to become a long-term storage site. Probably these are stored at national lab facilities, but there are counties and states that would be involved if such a process were to ever occur. Donald skips over the need for the consent by those communities.

    It may be that the ultimate locations are fairly close to where the waste is now, but even if that is within a national lab’s borders or close to it, there would still need to be a process for regional/state approval.

    DOE is trying in parallel to deep borehole discussions to try and develop processes for interim storage sites to remove wastes from shutdown sites. Those would likely be stored on the surface or just underground/bunkered. Those sites would get priority.

  6. Robert McTaggart

    “We have all of this waste that should be used before we mine any more of that poison.”

    If you mean that we should be recycling the waste that we have and reduce the volume and radioactivity of said waste, I fully agree with you Jerry. That would also reduce the amount that we need to mine in the first place.

    However, siting a recycling (or reprocessing facility) faces the same issues. But unlike the deep borehole, there are existing operating facilities for recycling in France that can be visited and assessed.

    Would you rather burn coal instead? Germany and Japan are still burning coal even though they want to do away with nuclear. If you don’t keep the lights on, you do not get re-elected. Coal burning releases heavy metals like uranium and other toxic chemicals into the biosphere, which will make their way into water sources in much greater volumes. How is that good for clean water?

  7. We developed nuke weapons in several months with a blank check. Do the same with waste. Get rid of it and don’t mine any more. Burying it will only cause issues later, kind of like using an outhouse.

  8. mike from iowa

    Doc McTaggart, How do we ordinary citizens know what is really up with scientific projects? This is slightly off topic but:

    Dang Alaska scientists were secretly capturing souls according to a couple true patriots from Georgia. These guys have enough gats to outfit the entire US marine Corp.

    This project is why we can’t have good things in America.

  9. Robert McTaggart

    Would you support the siting of a reprocessing facility in South Dakota to reduce the nation’s nuclear waste? In a nutshell, if you can live with a chemical processing facility, you can live with a reprocessing facility. The reprocessing technologies are chemical in nature.

    Not mining uranium may sound good initially. But if you take nuclear off the table, then you will need to build more coal and more natural gas to go along with your solar and wind farms.

    Are you similarly against the mining of the rare earths necessary to supply solar, wind, and energy storage technologies? Doesn’t that mining have potential impacts on clean water, or is that OK because that occurs in China?

    There is no such thing as zero risk for any energy source, wind and solar and nuclear included. But that doesn’t mean one should ignore those risks, nor does it mean one should not do the necessary clean-up when incidents occur. Are the benefits worth it to pay for the requisite monitoring, risk mitigation, and waste clean-up for any source of energy?

  10. Robert McTaggart


    That is a good question. Scientists do have a tough job trying to explain the importance of their research to those who chose not to be scientists, but taxpayer funding ultimately depends upon that skill set.

    Life is not full of rainbows and roses for everybody, and until life issues are resolved to one’s own satisfaction, listening and learning are not possible. Ironically, there are careers in various technical and scientific fields that would allow for a sense of achievement and self-worth, so we can do better to foster those opportunities.

  11. It is good that when citizens see the fact that government tries to pull the wool over their eyes, they react in the only way possible. A swift kick in the behind and it is off to another location to find the gullible. Anyone notice that they try to hoodwink the crown in sparsely and poor populated no consequence areas? The pipelines are able to put weakened pipe in these areas so the proletariat knows full well that just the top of the hole that you can see would be protected. The rest would be wrapped in a Hefty bag.

  12. There is another solution to this that should be bought to consideration, dig the borehole in the tar sands of Alberta.

  13. Really Jerry – we push our nuclear problem into Canada? That sounds like a great way to improve international relations and make even more friends around the world.

    It is OUR problem so we need to deal with it.

    As to the bigger issue, I am continually amazed at how people react with such disdain for Nuclear while ignoring the coal plants that case far more environmental harm. Robert tends to be a bit biased and seems to always find a way to paint nuclear in the most positive light possible but he does have a point. In our current world, nuclear has the smallest footprint and is really one of the only ways to reduce our carbon output. It will take decades to build our solar and wind infrastructure (even longer if citizens like those in Lincoln County have their way), and until that happens we are forced to use alternatives.

  14. Donald Pay

    South Dakotans haven’t been negligent in proposing solutions to its nuclear waste disposal issues. In 1982-1985 SD citizens proposed a number of innovative solutions. Most involved single state or two state compacts for disposal of our low-level radioactive waste. When these were rejected by the governor and legislature at the urging of the nuclear industry, we proposed an initiative to give citizens the power to vote on these decisions, as well as on high-level radioactive waste repositories.

    We recognized our responsibility to dispose of wastes we generated. It was the nuclear industry that opposed our efforts, because it wanted to dump national and international waste in SD.

  15. Robert McTaggart

    Yes, I am pro-nuclear…but I don’t mind having solar and wind in the mix. Just not all solar, all wind, all the time.

    I can obtain a unit of energy from nuclear any time of day I want. With nothing else but wind or solar, I need to use the energy when it is supplied, not when I want it.

  16. Robert McTaggart

    The government has already lost several lawsuits regarding the costs of storing nuclear wastes at the power plants. Particularly because they promised to do so, and haven’t come through. So it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the options for such disposal have always been quite limited because of the fear of nuclear or just plain NIMBY.

    As an aside, NIMBY contributed to the Fukushima event. Why were 6 reactors placed next to each other? They needed 6 to generate the electricity supply they wanted, but there was nowhere else they could get them built.

    I don’t have a problem with forging an agreement with other nations regarding their nuclear wastes, particularly if there are issues with proliferation that we want to oversee and control. But the details of costs and responsibilities are where the rubber hits the road.

    Low level wastes from companies, universities, or hospitals are still an issue, but they are different in nature from commercial wastes from a power plant.

  17. Robert McTaggart

    From a technical perspective, if the rock isn’t suitable, then forget a permanent underground Yucca-Mountain-like storage facility. The idea of the WIPP site in New Mexico is that eventually the salts will encapsulate the waste and be cut off from any pathways to the biosphere.

    I do not prefer the once-through cycle…I would rather we extract all the valuable energy and critical elements (including the rare earths for solar/wind/storage!!!) out of the waste first. Then isolate a much smaller volume that needs to be isolated for less time (hundreds of years vs. hundreds of thousands of years).

    On top of that, changing the efficiency of a nuclear power plant from 33% today (roughly) to over 50% later will reduce our wastes further.

  18. Donald Pay

    Let’s understand this so-called promise of the federal government to dispose of the high-level radioactive waste. It was written into a federal law that was lobbied by the nuclear industry. They certainly didn’t wat the responsibility to deal with those waste in perpetuity, because it would have made nuclear power immediately cost prohibitive. So, that “promise” amounted to a subsidy to the nuclear industry. Now they are collecting double on that subsidy. Great scam.

  19. Robert McTaggart

    I am aghast that politics and lobbying would ever occur in this great nation of ours. I’m sure no such lobbying has ever occurred for the wind or solar or oil or coal industries, or for any other environmental effort.

    If they are lobbying to reduce costs, they haven’t been doing very well. We do not reprocess our fuel today, so the volume, radioactivity, and costs would be reduced. They have also not gotten away from the linear no-threshold model, which makes things a lot more expensive because of the drive to continually reduce dose. If there happens to be a threshold model (which is common for chemical toxicity), then costs would decrease.

  20. Yes Craig, I think they want to push their dirty oil onto us. They already have the pit. Also, doc says that the borehole will be for nuke waste from out of the country as well, so why not make it a family affair for the Canadians and stick that stuff in the tar sands.

    We built an atomic bomb from scratch in a few years, we already have the plans, we should start today to build more wind and more solar. 5 years from now, we will all scratch our behinds in wonderment at what we did. The fish will return, pheasants will be plentiful, all will be well. What happened to our can do spirit?

  21. I see those good ol boys in Alabama are just as happy now as the good ol boys in Spink County. Always feels good when you rid yourself of a tick.

  22. Robert McTaggart

    Ummm….no. The boreholes are for domestic military wastes. Those are not fissile or fertile.

    Building up more wind and solar will produce more energy at the same times of day as they do today….which has no relation to the actual demand for electricity. So it would be better to build the applications that will use more wind and solar first….not widespread general use.

    Yeah, all the bald eagles will be gone due to the wind turbines….all the pheasant habitat will be encroached upon by solar and wind farms….it will be great.

  23. Robert McTaggart

    And apparently you don’t care about picking up dog waste, so once that gets into the lakes and streams, there go the fish…

  24. Robert McTaggart

    It took a while before nuclear physics and radiochemistry were understood well enough so that fission was discoverable in 1938. I would say the nucleus wasn’t even discovered until Rutherford did his gold foil experiments, and that was like 1911-1912. From 1938-1945, yes there was a gargantuan effort to build the bombs.

    That seminal moment similar to the discovery of fission hasn’t happened yet for energy storage. Not saying we shouldn’t keep trying, but (a.) you cannot promise a breakthrough, and (b.) it is unclear where the money is coming from to pay for such an effort.

  25. This is terrible news #4Science. Terrible news indeed. It is sad when those people more ignorant than some others of the sciences involved in The Borehole are allowed to spread fear among the even more ignorant masses. And we know how the ignorant masses can be tricked by misleading ads, too, like “freeloaders” and Fraiser getting paid $100,000 to pimp for Amendment S. If I were an overgodder I would fear the Armageddon is coming, what with Trump/Hillary, the Cubs, the insaner ballot measure laws, and the mob rule going on in the more barren and more rectangular Dakota.

  26. 1938 to 1945 is…just a second..takes off shoe..then other..yeah, decades for sure. No problem if we want to get it done. I am thinking that we have already manufactured solar panels and we seem to be making wind chargers as well so we do not need to go back to equations. Back to the dog poop eh…well, I guess need to stop the puppy mills and do like the feller from Mission, South Dakota said, neuter and spay them. Simple stuff if you don’t want to glow.

    In the meantime, you lost yet again and you will continue loosing because no one wants the stuff. Maybe Canada might in the tar sands or maybe Russia may be interested, we can ask Trump to show us the art of the deal.

  27. Donald Pay

    Dr. McTaggart, please don’t try to say that wind and solar and other renewable energy sources have anything like the subsidies of the nuclear enterprise. There is, after all, a huge international bureaucracy that is necessary to assure that so-called “peaceful” nuclear development doesn’t become a path to nuclear weaponry. There is a huge security apparatus required for nuclear energy. We can tote up the costs, in lives and money, of the Iraq war and split those costs between oil and nuclear energy, because the war was sold on the Iraq attempting to acquire nuclear weapons from what were “peaceful” uses of some centrifuges provided by Halliburton and other suppliers. International Atomic Energy Association is not required for solar or wind, and no one is going to start a war because they are going to use the sun’s photons for military purposes.