Citizens unite to keep Haakon County safe for livelihood, families
Wed, 03/01/2017 - 9:36am admin
This is a learning module for DOE to make a road map or policy for consent-based siting for nuclear waste disposal,” Jones said.
In an effort to support friends, to keep generations of local families safe, and being able to continue to supply quality beef and grains to the nation and other countries around the world, a group of concerned Haakon County residents have come together to speak out about the proposed deep borehole field test (DBFT) in northeastern Haakon County.
And they are concerned about how this project has started to pit family and friends against each other.
Nobody, it seems, wants to have nuclear waste stored near them. Meanwhile, the United States Department of Energy is looking for permanent storage facilities for nuclear waste. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, “A typical nuclear power plant in a year generates 20 metric tons of used nuclear fuel. The nuclear industry generates a total of about 2,000 to 2,300 metric tons of used fuel per year. Over the past four decades, the entire industry has produced 76,430 metric tons of used nuclear fuel.” A metric ton equals 2,205 pounds. Department of Energy also needs to find permanent disposal for weapons grade waste, which is highly radioactive, more so than the waste from power plants. This waste is also being considered for deep borehole disposal.
Each person in the group has spent countless hours researching nuclear waste and its storage.
Jeri Fosheim, Midland, said that in 2012 Governor Dennis Daugaard wrote a letter to DOE Secretary Steven Chu inviting them to come to South Dakota to do research on shale. One aspect of the research was studying shale as a disposal medium for radioactive waste. In 2014, he wrote another letter, she said. In this letter Daugaard was supportive of a S.D. School of Mines and Technology deep borehole field test. In both letters he noted that neither he, nor the state, was interested in nuclear waste storage. Jen Jones, Midland, noted that while Daugaard says he supports the research project, he has reached out to DOE twice for research grants that both involve studying South Dakota’s geology for the storage of nuclear waste.
T.J. Gabriel, Midland, lives just a mile from the proposed drill site. He stated nobody knows what will happen to the nuclear waste in the boreholes. Since it has never been done before, there are a lot of questions. He said DOE is taking on risks before knowing answers.
Group members agreed that had the Haakon County Commission signed the letter of support, it would have given RESPEC and the Department of Energy an open door. Gabriel said that was huge, paramount in not letting the project proceed. The only way this same project was stopped in Rugby, N.D. and Spink County, was because the commission opposed the project and did not support it. Shad Finn, Midland, noted in DOE’s strategy for nuclear waste disposal they followed Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) guidelines regarding consent-based sitings, transparency, and science plans. Finn said that consent-based is decided by the willingness of a host community to enter into legally binding agreements. This is outlined at www.energy.gov.
Jones said she believes the DOE is desperate to find a place to store nuclear waste. They want to have a repository by 2021, said Finn, and by 2025 have enough storage to reduce expected government liabilities. Group members agreed that they just didn’t see the DOE putting the money into this project and abandoning the site. It would be more cost effective to use a site they know is good, rather than drill a new hole, and have to test it again before using it for disposal of nuclear waste. The group understands the landowner is not in favor of storing nuclear waste, but other landowners may see a financial opportunity.
The group also stated they feel that DOE is using the DBFT and Haakon County as guinea pigs.
Since the BRC recommended using a consent-based siting effort for locating nuclear storage and disposal facilities, each meeting becomes a policy because everything is unknown and uncharted for doing the research and actually implementing a nuclear waste disposal site.” Each public information meeting where they (RESPEC) answer questions to the best of their ability, secure a site, seek community approval, engage stakeholders, all become benchmarks that the government will use to create policy. The group cited from a Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) presentation of the BRC in March 2012, that DOE is using these siting criteria for the DBFT to use in selecting future disposal sites. The BRC believes that as the DOE uses the DBFT it has the opportunity to “explore issues related to public engagement.”
Jones said the concerned citizen group has wondered why DOE and RESPEC want the community support from local government entities as well as residents for the project. They found a video of the Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on DOE’s 2017 budget, she said, that quotes Secretary of Energy, Ernst Moniz, as stating the consent based or community support are not needed for a science research grant. Consent-based is only needed when DOE decides to acquire a site for a disposal/repository and storage site for nuclear waste.
“I also believe DOE is leaving it up to each contractor at all four sites to pave the way and show DOE different strategies on how to obtain consent. This is a learning module for DOE to make a road map or policy for consent-based siting for nuclear waste disposal,” Jones said.
“To further my apprehensions of nuclear waste to follow the DBFT, Beyond Nuclear website states in an article DOE Racing to ‘test’ Deep Borehole Disposal of Highly Radioactive Waste, DOE spokesmen admitted that a suitable site, initially only involved in nonradioactive testing, could then proceed to become an actual deep borehole disposal radioactive dump.’ ”
Currently, most nuclear waste is stored above ground in cooling ponds and dry casks at nuclear power plants and in a salt cavern in New Mexico – Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). Yucca Mountain was seen as a long-term solution until funding was cut off in 2009 under the Obama administration. The secretary of energy then created the BRC on America's Nuclear Future to look into long-term storage solutions. One of their suggestions was to relook at deep borehole disposal; this thought has been around for decades.
Fosheim noted that when the DOE began to look at suitable sites for the DBFT, they used the same siting guidelines as they would for a deep borehole disposal facility and several factors were taken into consideration. According to the presentation of the U.S. Geological Survey at the NWTRB in March 2012, these qualifications include low population density, low risk of volcanic and seismic activity, coastal regions affected by an 80 meter rise in sea level, absence of oil and gas exploration and coal sites, and low geothermal heat. River basins and principal aquifers may disqualify a site depending if they supply water to a large population and agricultural needs. She said when those maps are laid, one atop another, the areas for deep borehole disposal shrinks considerably.
Population alone takes out east of the Mississippi River and the West Coast states. Volcanic and seismic risks are also greater in the West Coast states and portions of the Rocky Mountains. South Dakota’s seismic activity is low. Geothermal does not involve just water. It includes areas where the rock itself puts out high temperatures.
Jones noted other site characteristics to include depth to the crystalline basement, horizontal stress in the rock, water movement between basement and upper sedimentary layers, and the salinity, or saltiness, which reduces the mobility of radionuclide (radioactive atoms). This is important because the storage containers will leak at some point, said Jones. She cited a January 2016 report from the NWTRB “ ‘The waste packages are not relied on to provide long-term isolation as they are intended to maintain their integrity only until the borehole is sealed’ and ‘are assumed to rapidly degrade after emplacement and sealing.’ ” Jones noted the most important thing to understand is that if conditions are right, site characteristics all play a role in how everything will act as a natural barrier to keep the radionuclides from moving upward and contaminating the aquifers and ground.
According to a NWTRB report regarding deep borehole disposal research, the BRC has concerns about DOE’s project on studying the feasibility of boreholes disposal of radioactive waste. One concern is that the DOE has not taken into account the complex interactions between the borehole’s engineering and the waste container’s seals and the possible migration of radionuclides. All of this brings an overwhelming concern of how DOE would handle any contamination at the site. The same NWTRB report stated, “Currently no EPA environmental safety standards or Nuclear Regulatory Commission implementing regulations have been developed specifically for deep borehole disposal of radioactive waste.”
Jones stated that Sweden and the United Kingdom abandoned their deep borehole studies as they were deemed as too risky and too many unknowns. Some risks were a canister getting stuck during placement and or breaking open releasing matter into the groundwater.
A concern of the group is that while they know what the contract states for the eight inch hole, they do not know what is in the contract for the larger 17 inch hole. They do know that a third party could do the testing. This was brought out at the Midland public meeting by Jones. While RESPEC will maintain the lease on the property, they may not end up with the contract for the subsequent research. Jones also mentioned at the Midland meeting the second hole will add on an additional five years to the DBFT project; total of ten years.
Jones stated, “DOE’s long-term goal is finding a permanent storage for high-level radioactive waste. The contract and the contractor’s discussion focuses on one thing – the drilling of test holes that will serve as a science project that will never contain nuclear waste themselves. Focusing on this one thing does not give us the opportunity to ask ourselves, as a community, if we are willing to become a repository for high level nuclear waste. This segmentation of the effort to find a site for permanent storage for nuclear waste into one-stop-at-a-time may be the pathway for Haakon County or western South Dakota becoming a future nuclear waste disposal or repository site.
“We stand to lose our livelihood, our future for our children and grandchildren, our community, our water, our land, our agricultural income and our social structure,” said Jones.
Some sites, they suggested, for research include:
•www.nwtrb.gov – look for the meetings tab,
•www.ncsl.orc and search for “Strategy for the management and disposal of used nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste,” and
•www.energy.gov. search for “Integrated Waste Management and Consent-Based Siting 2016.
Once in the document, the sites can be searched by pressing the control and “F” buttons on the keyboard and typing in key terms such as borehole, consent based, South Dakota.
For more information the group shares information on the Citizen’s United for a Non-Nuclear South Dakota Facebook page. Or if people wish to visit with them about their position and storage of nuclear waste, they can call Jones at 843-2281, Finn – 843-2220, Gabriel – 567-3327, Fosheim – 567-3395, and Jamie Dolezal - 859-3431.