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Lana Greenfield Wants Legislative Vote on Nuclear Waste; Borehole Unaffected; Philip, Midland, Wilson Out

Last spring, Rep. Lana Greenfield (R-2/Doland) blasted the Deep Borehole Field Test, saying the Governor and the president of the School of Mines were pushing to bring nuclear waste to Clark County in her district without any input from the Legislature.

Now, with the Governor and other players working to bring the Borehole project to Haakon County in District 27 and rousing similar concerns from folks in West River, Rep. Greenfield has brought House Bill 1071 to subject any high-level nuclear waste disposal project to Legislative approval.

Right now, SDCL 34-21-1.1 requires that “The containment, disposal, or deposit of high level and nuclear fuel cycle wastes, defense wastes, nuclear wastes, radioactive substances, or radioactively contaminated materials or the processing of high level nuclear wastes” in South Dakota receive prior approval from “the Governor or upon his request the Legislature….” Rep. Greenfield amends that latter phrase to read “the Governor and the Legislature.”

Again showing her party’s rejection of people power, Rep. Greenfield does not provide for a public vote on nuclear waste. South Dakotans gave themselves that power by initiative in 1984, exercised that power in 1985 to stop South Dakota’s entry into an interstate low-level nuclear waste management compact and kill a nuclear waste dump proposed for Edgemont, then lost that power in 1987 when the Legislature repealed the 1984 initiative.

Still, HB 1071 would open the door for activists to refer Legislative approval of a nuclear waste dump to a public vote. A referendum petition would suspend that approval until the next general election. However, one group of nameless nuclear waste opponents seems not to want to risk a statewide vote for fear of “deep-pocketed nuclear companies” flooding the state with campaign dollars:

A state wide nuclear referendum vote would cause millions in out of state money to flood in, in an attempt to squash any debate. Just keeping the non nuclear status quo in South Dakota would end up costing South Dakotans millions of dollars and a huge grassroots effort to fight back against an unwanted project [No Nukes South Dakota, “Our Nuclear History,” downloaded 2017.01.24].

Whether allowing the nuclear waste industry to focus their influence on lobbying the Legislature is preferable is open to debate.

HB 1071 would have no effect on the Deep Borehole Field Test, since, everyone involved with the project has said from Day One, this project by contract will involve no nuclear waste. HB 1071 would simply provide one more guarantee that all the Boreholers are doing is testing the feasibility of drilling perfectly straight holes three miles deep.

Three other factors may complicate siting the Borehole project northeast of Philip. According to Citizens United for a Non-Nuclear South Dakota, the Philip City Council voted to rescind its letter of support for the Borehole at its January 3 meeting, pending what it learns at upcoming public meetings. The Midland town board rescinded its letter of support for the project on January 10. (The vote was 2–1, with the two Fosheims on the board voting to rescind and board member Flom opposing the reversal. 26 individuals interested in the Borehole attended.) And yesterday, Donald Trump pulled Mines president Heather Wilson out of the lobbying mix by nominating her to be Secretary of the Air Force. Wilson has connections to the nuclear-industrial complex that Rep. Greenfield claimed may have motivated her to push for the project.

Wilson, the Philip and Midland rescissions, and HB 1071 will likely come up tonight at the first public meeting on the Borehole project hosted by Rapid City engineering firm RESPEC and its Borehole partners in Philip at the American Legion building from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.


  1. Robert McTaggart 2017-01-24 08:26

    One step closer to a public vote, but not quite there yet.

    What is probably more pressing is the status of low-level waste facilities given the growing favorability of using natural gas to make up for solar and wind.

    Natural gas development does concentrate some naturally-occurring isotopes during drilling procedures, resulting in elevated radioactivity for filter socks, etc. South Dakota may not do a lot of that, but others who do may want somewhere to put their waste.

    Then again, now that everybody will be using a lot of natural gas, the price will go up. So the plan of using a lot of cheap gas to backup renewables may falter may not work as well.

  2. Jeri Fosheim 2017-01-24 10:02

    RESPEC has taken on the 36 million dollar contract with Department of Energy for an 8 inch bore hole. Success of an 8 inch bore hole will lead to another 44 million dollar contract for a 18 inch bore hole at the same site. RESPEC will do their best to be successful. RESPEC has no plans to put nuclear waste in the proposed bore hole in Haakon County. However, Department of Energy plans to use the data to put nuclear waste in a bore hole .. somewhere. Department of Energy will increase their efforts to use the success of these two bore holes to dispose of nuclear waste somewhere close to the same geology as a successful borehole. Good luck South Dakota.

  3. Donald Pay 2017-01-24 10:48

    HB 1071 is a start, but it’s only a start. Unless it is improved, it is pretty worthless. It maybe better than what is there now, but not much better. If there is anything we learned in 1983-1985, it is that the Legislature can be bought. The people cannot.

    However, it might be a good idea to work with the legislature to improve HB 1071, rather than just say no. The problem with the bill is there is no provision for a vote and there is no mechanism for that vote. It would be best if Gov. Daugaard would actually come forth with a proposal for amendments, because then we might be able to trust that he actually means what he says about him opposing disposal of nuclear wastes unless there is a vote of the people.

    My view is that a public vote is crucial, and any bill that doesn’t have that in it is an invitation for an initiative on the subject. Another thing that is crucial is that the Legislature not pass any of these “cripple the initiative and referendum bills” they have. Why say you want a public vote, if you are taking away or crippling the process to the point where the public is frozen out.

    The major problem with the bill is that the Legislature can pass a non-referable resolution, or use an emergency clause to try to forestall a public vote.

    Another thing that I think could be done is this: Why not make the proponents of nuclear waste dumping have to collect the signatures on an initiative supporting a nuclear waste facility. Let them go through the same process citizens have to. Why make citizens collect the signatures on a referral?

  4. Porter Lansing 2017-01-24 11:15

    Hey, South Dakota. There’s not nearly enough local money in your state to make a noticeable growth impact. You’ll be little more than a “small carp pond” forever until you stop being afraid of “millions in out of state money flooding in”. Can you imagine Texas or Florida or Arizona having such fears? States beg and compete for out of state money. Using the fear of “outsiders” trying to “tell you what to do” is a scare tactic of the repressive majority in Pierre trying to keep you populist and backward. South Dakota deserves to grow up and join the USA. Nobody wants to tell you what to do. Become a partner not a hider.

  5. Robert McTaggart 2017-01-24 11:26


    Are you saying that a nuclear facility proponent could also use the initiative process to approve such a facility for the temporary or permanent disposal of nuclear waste?

  6. Donald Pay 2017-01-24 11:47

    One of the provisions of the 1984 nuclear waste initiative was to require 7 hearings located around the state to provide a means to educate voters on the issues surrounding nuclear waste disposal, and the specifics of a proposal. That was done to provide a more objective venue for discussion of the issue and to partly negate the money that poured in from the pro-nuke side.

  7. Robert McTaggart 2017-01-24 12:22

    What if after an objective discussion, voters approved such a facility…wouldn’t that be consistent with public consent? But I don’t think opponents really want a public vote because of that possibility.

    If you could simply wish the nuclear waste away, you would also be wishing away the clean energy from the nuclear power that generated the waste in the first place.

    Would you rather have 5 decades of extra coal burning and a lot more coal fly ash to deal with, or deal with a total amount of nuclear waste that covers a football field?

  8. Donald Pay 2017-01-24 13:08

    I don’t know why proponents should not be forced to use the initiative process to show consent. The current law could be modified to say that before the Governor may provide an approval that the proponents of a radioactive waste storage or disposal facility would have to seek and gain approval of their facility through the initiative process. There could be further ground rules for the vote, such as 5-10 public hearings prior to the vote, a mandatory campaign spending limit, etc. to make it a fair vote.

  9. Donald Pay 2017-01-24 13:16

    I have no fear of a public vote. One of the issues that needs to be addressed is when that vote should happen. You might want it early in the process to prevent the government wasting resources on a facility that has no hope of gaining consent. I would have thought Daugaard would have some ideas on this since he was the one who said four years ago that he would require a public vote. He has yet to propose any mechanism. Four strikes, he’s out. I actually would almost prefer that opponents initiate the ground rules, as we did in 1984.

  10. Robert McTaggart 2017-01-24 13:38

    A site needs to be studied before any vote takes place, and doing the siting studies should not imply that the site will ever be selected.

  11. Donald Pay 2017-01-24 13:48

    The discussion at DOE and the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board is that there needs to be several on and off ramps when we are talking about consent-based siting. One vote may not be enough for a disposal site, though maybe one vote would suffice for an interim storage facility.

  12. Robert McTaggart 2017-01-24 13:58

    Retrievability will be an issue. For example, if reprocessing becomes available, that would reduce some mining issues as well as the length of time you’d need to isolate things. Retrievability also would permit a site to withdraw consent at a later date. Probably if you say yes there is some initial commitment required, and then a “look-in” opportunity.

    I am also fine with approvals to start looking at things, some introductory work being presented and approved, and then work your way up to the final yes or no vote.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2017-01-24 22:05

    Like Donald, I am not afraid of a public vote. If we put an objectionable project on the ballot and the voters say, “Bring it on!”, well, that’s the will of the people.

    And Donald, thanks for that reminder of Daugaard’s repeated statements that he would submit any nuclear waste project to a public vote. He has his mechanism right here in HB 1071: all he has to do is send Tony V. down the hall to chat with Gosch and tell him to propose an automatic referral amendment to House State Affairs (no committee date set yet).

  14. Adam 2017-01-24 23:42

    No one’s thinking short term storage of nuclear waste with this GD borehole, that’s why they want to go 3 miles deep.

    Public vote is certainly fair enough.

    Within the next few thousand years, if just one layer of the Earth’s crust shifts and bends the pipe just a little bit, all the waste becomes completely unretrievable. It’s just a matter of when, not if that will happen.

    Rep. Lana Greenfield is very right to what she did.

    Cory, great post!

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