North Dakota test site for nuke waste? (February 2016)

Boreholes would be within Souris River watershed which flows into Manitoba

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says the boreholes, to be drilled about 25 kilometres south of Rugby, N.D., are an important first step for long-term nuclear-waste disposal.

The U.S. government wants to drill five kilometres below the surface of North Dakota to see whether granite bedrock can store high-level radioactive waste.

In January, the U.S. Department of Energy announced plans to spend US$35 million over the next five years to drill experimental boreholes into the bedrock below state-owned land near Rugby, N.D. The proposed site, in Balta Township, is about 200 kilometres south of Brandon and sits within the watershed of the Souris River, which flows into Manitoba and drains into the Assiniboine River.

The Department of Energy says the test is an opportunity to see whether deep boreholes could be used to store radioactive waste currently held in underwater canisters at nuclear facilities across the United States. The department asked a consortium led by Ohio’s Batelle Memorial Institute to figure out engineering challenges involved in drilling 4.9-kilometre-deep holes, keeping the shafts stable and sealing them up.

“This is an important first step to increasing our scientific understanding of the potential uses for crystalline rock formations… including the feasibility of boreholes as an option for long-term nuclear-waste disposal,” U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement.

The site in Balta Township was chosen because it’s not prone to seismic activity and is located in a sparsely populated area far from the oil and gas activity in western North Dakota. The Department of Energy told North Dakota’s Forum News Service the tests are not about selecting a disposal site and also promised to seal the boreholes when the experimental-drilling project is over.

Environmentalists and elected officials in North Dakota are nonetheless worried their state will be saddled with the responsibility of storing nuclear waste other U.S. states have already rejected. A plan to store nuclear waste inside a hollowed-out Nevada mountain was torpedoed by political opposition in 2010.

“Nobody in the U.S. wants this. What we fear in North Dakota — an empty state in some people’s minds, with one of the lowest populations — is the government is going to take the path of least resistance and put this here,” said Todd Leake, an Emerado, N.D., farmer who serves as president of the Sierra Club’s Dacotah Chapter.

Outgoing North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple has gone on record opposing the project, telling Forum News the Department of Energy has “made no effort to hide the fact that this is something they’re very hopeful about, so let’s not kid ourselves here.”

Officials with Pierce County, where Balta Township is located, also raised concerns the tests will lead to nuclear-waste storage. The Pierce County Commission placed a moratorium on the experiment earlier this month, The Associated Press reported.

That likely won’t stop the Department of Energy from choosing another site, perhaps on private or federal land, said Leake of the Sierra Club. He described the plan as nuclear-waste disposal, not storage, since he said it would be impossible to retrieve the materials from the bottom of deep boreholes.

Leake said he contacted the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., to ensure officials north of the border are aware of the tests proposed upstream of the Lake Winnipeg watershed.

Manitoba knows about the Department of Energy’s plans, said Zach Fleisher, press secretary to Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Tom Nevakshonoff.

“Manitoba is aware that the U.S. government is investigating options, as is Canada. Manitoba does not allow the storage of high-level radioactive waste and will continue to monitor the situation being considered in North Dakota,” Fleisher said.

Bartley Kives, Winnipeg Free Press, Posted: 02/18/2016 8:49 PM at

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