Groups meet to discuss proposed Haakon County borehole project
Wed, 02/15/2017 - 9:09am admin
Nobody has done the tests we’re trying to do."
Environmental group representatives, tribal representatives, engineers, Haakon County land- owners, business owners and others met in Philip, Feb. 7 to discuss RESPEC’s proposed deep borehole field test.
RESPEC is one of four companies after a U.S. Department of Energy project to study the geology and feasibility of drilling an eight inch hole three miles deep into the earth. If it is successful another hole 17 inches in diameter could be drilled.
The Philip meeting is the first in a series to discuss the project with the public. The DOE wants public support for the project and that is a deciding factor in who will get the project. The other companies are AECOM with a Texas site and ENERCON and TerranearPMC with New Mexico sites.
The study is to determine if it is a feasible way to store nuclear waste.
Todd Kenner, RESPEC president and CEO, opened the discussion noting earlier that day the South Dakota House had passed House Bill 1071 which alters the language regarding who can approve for nuclear waste storage in the state. “As a company we endorse House Bill 1071.” He added the bill states that all three branches of the state government have a say toward nuclear waste storage. It also can be brought to a vote of the people.
Kenner stated they chose Haakon County for its location to Rapid City. He noted the original name of RESPEC was Research Specialists. This study, he said, is for them to gain knowledge using a different method than the company has ever used.
Jay Nopola, RESPEC staff engineer, said they are interested in the science objectives. “If this project involved nuclear waste, I wouldn’t be part of it. I’m here because I believe in it.”
Kenner noted for the past 30 years the United States has focused on storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in New Mexico. Since that site has been closed, the DOE has to find other options. There is also storage in a salt cavern near Carlsbad, New Mexico.
As to what is three miles underground, nobody knows. “Nobody has done the tests we’re trying to do,” he said. He noted that since earlier meetings they have discovered that 10 three-mile deep drill holes have been done across the world. But none have been drilled gun-barrel straight.
An audience member questioned the heat and its impact on equipment. Nopola based on other wells, they believe the temperature is around 450 degrees Fahrenheit. He said the temperature could be a problem if it is over that and cold possibly halt the project.
Philip mayor, Mike Vetter, asked about the amount of truck traffic that could be expected. Kenner said the initial traffic is expected to be heavy as they bring in the drilling rig. After that it will decrease significantly. Traffic then will consist of workers, scientists and the hauling away of drill cuttings. Work will continue around the clock, he said, with about 60 people each day working at the site. Two loads of drill cuttings per week are expected through the initial levels, after that it slows down.
Regarding noise pollution, most people will never hear anything other than the resident about one mile from the site and the landowner, Julian Roseth. Roseth noted many area residents operate grain dryers and he did not expect the noise to be worse than them.
While it is a huge engineering feat, said Kenner, there is also a lot of science involved. One focus is if there is water within the granite. If there is, is it flowing through or is it stale, Bill Roggenthen, S.D. School of Mines and Technology, said chemical tests are used to determine the age of water. If the water is old then they know there is no movement within the rock.
Other information garnered from the water will tell what minerals and isotopes are involved. An isotope is, “any of two or more forms of a chemical element, having the same number of protons in the nucleus, or the same atomic number, but having different numbers of neutrons in the nucleus, or different atomic weights.”
Gregg Jankord, Chamberlain, spoke up, noting he attended some of the meetings in Redfield, when a Spink County site was entertained. He said he wanted to make sure people asked enough questions and got suitable answers. Jankord stated his concern is if they prove they can do a borehole successfully in South Dakota they could come back and use the location. Maybe not use that borehole, but drill another.
He related his experience from Washington state regarding nuclear reactors and the nuclear facility he worked at. One of his concerns is how the United States Department of Energy could come in, purchase and remove people from their homes and communities as they did in Washington. While this administration, whether in Washington, D.C., or Pierre, may not want nuclear waste in South Dakota a future one could.
An audience member questioned Jankord about the aquifers in Washington state, if they’d been contaminated. Jankord said they were fine, but the Columbia River was heavily polluted. While it has been rehabilitated to some degree, heavy metals that sank to the bottom are still there, he said.
Jen Jones, Midland, asked if they were looking at how salty the borehole is. She said from research she had found, the cannister were only guaranteed to not leek prior to being stored. Roggenthen said there might be some density testing, but if there is not movement of water in the granite, then it would be really hard to move anything through. He added that if there are big cracks in the granite, where is the permeability lost is a question that would have to be answered.
Jeff Jones, Midland, asked why start with an eight inch hole, why not just drill the 17 inch hole. Nopola stated that in part it is because it would be hard to conduct some of the tests. Especially when trying to draw water from the granite.
Jen Jones questioned Kenner if this (the deep borehole project) goes through, the drilling and everything is good, does that put South Dakota in the front to maybe have nuclear waste come back. She added that the Department of Energy said that a community would have to invite them to come. “How many out of state landowners do we have in Haakon County,” she asked. If they do not feel their land is making a profit, she felt they may invite the DOE to come.
Jen Jones noted she does like Kenner and Nopola and others involved. “These guys are likable. I like talking to them,” she said. “I want you all to remember this is not REPEC’S project. It is the Department of Energy’s,” she said. “In my mind RESPEC is going to do what they have said. It will look good for them, the School of Mines, and South Dakota. This is the Department of Energy’s project...to solve Department of Energy’s storage disposal of nuclear waste.”
Katie Bruce, Midland, stated the Department of Energy worries her. She asked Kenner why RESPEC had to get letters of support before the city councils and commissioners knew what the project was about. Kenner stated that part of it was what happened in Rugby, N.D. and Spink County. They wanted to be more open about the project and approached the local governments. He said there was no attempt to deceive. “We want to demonstrate to the Department of Energy that there was interest. Hence we got the opportunity to be here tonight.
Since then, the city of Philip and the town of Midland have rescinded their letters of support. Bruce asked if the Department of Energy is aware of that. Kenner said, that yes, they have been told.
RESPEC will hold more meetings within Haakon County and neighboring counties. Following that, per a request from the Haakon County Commission, an informal poll for Haakon County residents will be done. There have been questions as to what constitutes support of the project, which DOE wants to be shown. It is hoped the informal poll will give a good idea of support or not.
RESPEC’S next meeting is in Midland Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Trinity Lutheran Church, beginning at 5:00 p.m.
Levels of Nuclear Waste There are three levels of nuclear waste, low, intermediate and high. According to www. world-nuclear.org, low level waste is 90 percent of all nuclear waste, and its radioactive content is one percent. Intermediate level waste is secen percent of the total and four percent radioactive content. The high level waste, which is what the majority of people envision when speaking of nuclear waste, is just three percent of the total, but its radioactive content is 95 percent. Low level nuclear waste is items are tools and work clothing from nuclear power plants. Radioactive waste from the health care industry is in this category as well. Intermediate wastes are filters, steel components and some effluents from nuclear energy production. High level waste is the nuclear fuel left from three years of use in an electricity producing reactor. The website stated, “Low level and intermediate wastes are buried close to the surface. For low level wastes disposal is not much different from a normal municipal landfill. High level wastes can remain highly radioactive for thousands of years. They need to be disposed of deep underground in engineered facilities built in stable geological formations.”