Proposed Deep Borehole Field Test Leads To Debate About Nuclear Waste In Spink County

May 12, 2016

A group gathers in Redfield to discuss the deep borehole field test.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Energy want to conduct a science experiment in Spink County. Researchers want to find out if some types of nuclear waste can be stored deep in the earth. But first they need to figure out how to drill the holes. Not everyone is happy with the idea.

Rod Osborne is with Battelle, the organization leading the project. He says the geology in Spink County is great for testing to see whether deep boreholes are possible, and figuring out how to make them.
 
“What we are doing is testing the idea of drilling a very straight hole, fairly sizeable in diameter, eight and half inches, 16 thousand feet into the granite,”  Osborne says. “So the combination of the depth, the very straight hole, and the diameter into granite is pretty unique. So we’re going to have to develop new tools, new methods, new pieces of equipment to be able to do this kind of a test. And that’s really as much part of the project as actually getting the actual rock data, is doing that development of the engineering to figure out how to do this.”
 
Osborne says if the first hole is successful, they hope to build another wider one. He says while the area is good for testing the drilling process, it’s not good for disposing of nuclear waste, because of an aquifer. He says there’s no nuclear waste involved in the project.
 
Erin Schroeder and her husband own land in Spink County. They, like others who oppose the project, are concerned that once the holes are dug, the government will send nuclear waste to the area.
 
“They start off with saying they’re going to drill one hole, and then they go on to say they’re drilling two holes,” Schroeder says. “They tell you the next hole is 17 inches in diameter, the exact circumference of one of those canisters that will go down into the hole. That very much concerns me, because when they realize that it works, the canister fits and goes perfectly down there, that’s the end of it, we’re in trouble.”
 
The project still needs to receive permits, and support from county commissioners on re-zoning the land.