South Dakota sites mulled for nuclear waste drilling project

PIERRE, S.D. – Organizers of a federal effort to assess whether nuclear waste can be stored in 3-mile-deep holes are trying to better explain their intentions to South Dakota residents after getting rebuffed in North Dakota over concerns that waste might eventually be stored there.

Battelle, a non-profit group hired to manage the U.S. Department of Energy project, is considering whether sites in Spink County, South Dakota, would suffice for the study of whether deep rock is suitable for nuclear waste disposal, the contractor said Thursday.

The deep borehole field test will not involve any radioactive waste, officials said. Organizers are planning at least two open meetings in Spink County near the end of April to answer questions from the community about the proposed research.

“We want to be upfront and open and honest with the communities that we reside in and that we conduct experiments in, and we only ask that you give us an opportunity and watch our actions,” said Andrew Griffith, an Energy Department official. “We’re after the science here — we’re not trying to trick anybody into doing something that they don’t want to do.”

Researchers and federal officials said repeatedly that no actual nuclear waste would be buried in North Dakota, but many residents and officials were skeptical about the future of the proposed site. Pierce County commissioners last month voted to formally oppose it.

Rod Osborne of Battelle said the group learned from its experience with North Dakota that it needs to first impress upon locals that it is “truly a science project, that we are gathering data, for the very important study of nuclear waste — but, again, (that there is) no nuclear waste involved in this project.”

Spink County would not be good for storing nuclear waste in the future because the proximity of subsurface water makes it an unattractive site, said Griffith.

Battelle is also considering two sites outside of South Dakota that it declined to name. The contractor hopes to decide if Spink County is viable within a few weeks.

Based on a site recommendation, the Department of Energy will work with Battelle to make sure it’s acceptable, according to the agency. The project also requires state and local government permits to move forward, Osborne said.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard supports the project because it “furthers our state’s leadership in underground research with no potential for that location to be used to store nuclear waste,” he said in a statement.