RUGBY — Nearly 300 people, including a couple dozen school kids, packed the house in Rugby Tuesday morning, leaving farm, ranch and business to weigh in on a deep borehole project that many believe is just the first step in nuclear waste disposal.
The meeting was called by the Pierce County Commission, looking for a forum to get reliable information to residents and get everyone’s’ questions answered. The commission was caught flat-footed by news that the federal Department of Energy had awarded $35 million to learn if mid-continental basement rock can safely store nuclear waste capsules by drilling 3 miles down at a site 15 miles south of Rugby.
Representatives from lead researcher Battelle Memorial Institute, drilling partner Energy and Environmental Research Center of Grand Forks and the DOE said the 3-mile deep borehole is a laboratory in the ground and that no waste will be used or stored in the project. It will be plugged and abandoned after cores are removed for study.
“This is not a nuclear project, this is a science project,” said DOE’s deputy of nuclear energy Andy Griffith, a theme repeated throughout the two-hour meeting. He said any disposal will come in a consent-based process that DOE is developing to work with communities willing to accept such waste.
Griffith said it’s his job to develop that process, to find a durable solution for waste.
“This is tough; this is really hard work,” he said, acknowledging that the government failed with the Yucca Mountain storage project in Nevada because it used federal land without local consent. “We failed at Yucca Mountain.”
At least one person in the room said the researchers should have the opportunity to do their work.
“I love science, and I believe in science and technology. Let’s give these guys a chance before we get all scared,” said Christie Jaeger, who ranches 15 miles from the site.
Galen Mack, the Pierce County State’s Attorney, said North Dakota has already contributed oil, gas and wind energy into the world.
“There is no nuclear power here. Shouldn’t the disposal be where the waste is generated? We’ve done our share,” he said.
Griffith said the bottom line from his view is that the DOE won’t force the issue.
“We’re not going to do this if you don’t consent. We won’t force this on you, but I thank you for the time to listen,” Griffith said.
Read more at Protests stomp on proposed borehole drilling