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Borehole concerns revisited again

By Staff | May 4, 2018

Concerns over borehole drilling and nuclear waste storage in Pierce County came to the surface again Tuesday morning during a regular meeting of the Board of County Commissioners.

County resident Rebecca Leier met with the board to discuss a draft of a bill the state legislature’s Natural Resource Committee is working on that would amend the N.D. Century Code regarding nuclear waste storage and disposal.

The bill would repeal Chapter 23-20.2 of the N.D.C.C. and would create chapters 38-23 and 38-24, the former of which would deal with “high-level radioactive waste” — or materials resulting from reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, containing fission products, liquid wastes produced from reprocessing, solid materials derived from liquid wastes, and other materials that require “permanent isolation.”

The bill would allow the state’s Industrial Commission, through the state geologist, to serve as a point of contact for federal agencies on matters of temporary or long-term radioactive waste storage and disposal; issue notices of disapproval regarding proposed radioactive waste facilities when the legislature is not in session; and regulate facility construction and drilling, boring and excavating for exploratory or facility purposes. The commission would also have the ability to issue permits or deny applications.

When in session, the legislature would have authority to issue notices of disapproval.

The bill would also create a 10-member radioactive waste council, with three members appointed by the governor from city and county governments and the agricultural community; the state geologist as executive secretary; and the directors of the Department of Transportation/Department of Environmental Quality and Game & Fish Department, commerce commissioner, state health officer, state engineer serving as ex officio members. The council would advise the commission in carrying out its duties pertaining to radioactive waste storage and disposal.

In an April 24 email to County Auditor-Treasurer Karin Fursather, Leier attached the bill and Chapter 23-20.2 of the N.D.C.C. and said a provision in the former regarding county zoning authorities was of interest.

The bill would not allow county zoning regulations to prohibit radioactive waste facilities the Industrial Commission had permitted, but county zoning could regulate the facility’s location, size and scope.

Leier also said she spoke with District 14 Representative Jon Nelson, who said the amendment would not be heard until the legislature meets again.

Leier questioned whether such regulation would negate regulations the county commission had put in place, as did Commission Chairman Dave Migler.

In their February 2016 regular meeting, the board voted to put a moratorium in place on borehole drilling to determine if crystalline basement rock on a site near Balta, Elverum, Girard and Rosedale townships would be suitable for applications that included minerals, geothermal energy development and nuclear waste disposal. An 8.5-inch hole would would have been drilled 16,000 feet deep first, and the success of the first hole would have led to a second phase in which a 17-inch hole would have been drilled. The proposed project was led by the Columbus, Ohio-based Battelle Memorial Institute and partners included the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center.

In their March 2016 regular meeting, commissioners voted to send a letter to the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center to cease consideration of the site for borehole testing.

“What we have right now is fine,” said Pierce County State’s Attorney Galen Mack, adding that Leier should talk to members of the Natural Resource Committee and get a lobbyist in place.

Leier asked if the commission can reach out to other counties. The board gave an Elmer Jesme meeting as a possible option.

Leier said to the board she wanted everyone in the county to know the matter was still in progress.

“It hasn’t gone away,” Leier said.

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