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Nuclear waste bill receives revisions

By Staff | Mar 1, 2019

A bill under close watch by a local grassroots organization passed the North Dakota Senate last week, and community representatives hope to improve it further as it makes its way through the House.

The North Dakota Community Alliance held what organizer Rebecca Leier called a “working meeting” Monday evening in Rugby Manufacturing’s conference room. In attendance were several Pierce County residents, Pierce County commissioners, and North Dakota District 14 legislators Senator Jerry Klein and Representative Jon Nelson.

North Dakota Senate Bill 2037, which pertains to the disposal and storage of high-level radioactive waste, was introduced January 3, the first day North Dakota’s legislature began its 2019 session.

During the few weeks the bill received readings and amendments by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the NDCA voiced concerns about language and provisions they said needed to be revised. The group hosted a public information meeting at Dakota Farms Restaurant January 21, where they presented the bill in its original form and answered questions from area residents.

In a press release, the NDCA said, “The North Dakota Community Alliance, NDCA, is a group of concerned citizens that was established in 2016 after an experimental bore hole project meant to test technology for new ways to store high-level radioactive waste was proposed in Pierce county. Since that time, the NDCA has been tracking the progress of proposed high-level radioactive waste legislation and has been working with legislators to make sure SB 2037 includes some key provisions to protect the voices as well as health, safety and economic interests of North Dakota citizens.”

The release went on to list issues local residents have with the bill: “The NDCA has concerns that as currently written, SB 2037 does not provide adequate legislative oversight in decision making regarding high-level radioactive waste in North Dakota but gives sweeping authority to the three-person State Industrial Commission for permitting, hearings, and bonding when the Legislature is not in session. The bill as currently written also prohibits counties from zoning against high-level radioactive nuclear waste exploration siting or disposal facilities once permitting has been decided by the commission.”

As the North Dakota House prepares for SB 2037’s first reading in March, District 14 legislators said the Senate has already made six revisions to the bill.

One such change was establishing an advisory committee composed of legislators from each state chamber and members of state agencies including the North Dakota Water Commission, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Quality.

Rep. Jon Nelson said the NDCA told him they “would like two more legislators on the current advisory committee to work in the interim as the bill is being implemented. One member would come from the House, and one from the Senate. We are working on issues that may be in the next legislative session; this isn’t a one time fix,” Nelson said. “The majority leader in senate would pick two senate members, the majority leader in the house would pick two house members.”

Nelson said leaders typically select legislators from both the majority and minority parties.

SB 2037 was expanded in the Senate to allow input from representatives from local groups. One member would represent the counties near the site; one would represent cities affected by the site, and one would represent the agricultural community.

Nelson continued, “Next, a section was added to allow local counties to submit a position paper for publication if a project is proposed in their area. The position paper piece is in the bill as well. We’re going to try to clarify that the position paper would be put out before the minutes were out for public review. It’s a little more clarification for timeliness. It’s more of a technical change.”

Nelson said Monday’s meeting also addressed aligning classifications and definitions of high-level radioactive waste with those of the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The designations would cover the different physical forms high-level radioactive waste may take.

The NDCA press statement described the waste at issue: “High-level radioactive nuclear waste is not your run of the mill medical grade or oilfield waste; it’s Defense Department and nuclear reactor waste from across the country. This waste would have to travel to North Dakota and pass through many different jurisdictions and populated areas before ending up at a proposed permanent or long-term storage area.”

“The issue (discussed at Monday’s meeting) is some speculation that they may reclassify nuclear waste at the federal level. We don’t have that specific language where we’re at today. We would break down the current definitions where they are today. We would be on the same level playing field today,” Nelson indicated.

“We don’t want to change our code to less than the impact that the new definition may include,” Nelson stressed, referring to Federal Code 61.55, which classifies nuclear waste. “We don’t want to have a more lax definition than what the feds have, and certainly don’t want a more lax code than the states do,” he added.

The NDCA press release outlined changes made to SB 2037 in previous sessions: “The North Dakota Community Alliance has been working this session to see SB 2037 strengthened. The NDCA supports the proposed amendments to the bill that passed the Senate. These amendments include increased bond requirements and permitting fees; increased landowner notification and increased time for a comment period. It would also include the submission of a position paper from county governments and the creation of a high-level radioactive waste advisory council comprised of a cross-section of citizens, legislators and experts from across the state.”

Sen. Jerry Klein voted yes on the bill’s current version, 190038.06000. “That (number) means there were already 6 amendments to it, and that should have all the incorporated language in it, but not the language that was discussed last evening,” he said.

“That (language) is all going to be drafted and placed in the various sections (they pertain to). This will happen in the House,” Klein noted.

Klein said Nelson was ” working with (House Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Todd Porter) to get more of a time certain as to when we’re looking at the hearing, for people who drive in, as to when and where (it will take place in March).”

The NDCA press release described the group as “encouraged that during this session, the Legislature has been willing to engage the public in an effort to build trust and enact policies that have the support of the citizens of North Dakota. The NDCA will continue to pursue stronger legislative oversight and county authority in consent-based siting during the 66th legislative session. We are committed that changes to the century code and policy regarding high-level radioactive waste should strengthen the position of future generations who will be effected by this legislation.”

The release added, “ SB 2037 is expected to be heard in the House Natural Resources committee regarding proposed amendments during March 2019. Information about the bill, amendments, and times and dates of committee hearings for the bill are available on the ND Community Alliance Facebook page, website, and the North Dakota Legislature’s website. Any requests for information, updates or interviews may be directed to the email, website or Facebook pages of the North Dakota Community Alliance. If you would like to join our mailing list for updates please email ndcommunityalliance@gmail.com.”

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