Feds: No nuke waste to be used in possible South Dakota test

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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — 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 nonprofit 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, which also could involve geothermal energy.

"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.

More information is necessary before community leaders can form opinions about the proposal, local officials said. Jayme Akin, mayor of Redfield, a city of about 2,400 people in the county, asked for education and "an open discussion." There will need to be answers about the potential for nuclear waste disposal, said Dave Albrecht, the chairman of the county's board of commissioners.

"I don't think it would be fair to the public if we didn't ask those kinds of questions," he said.

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, and would like to be drilling by the end of the year.

It is touting a multi-million dollar estimated state and local economic impact.

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 siting the project in South Dakota 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.

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