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March 10, 2017 10:09 PM

Borehole Drilling Project In Debate In Haakon County

Rapid City, SD

A controversial borehole drilling project is raising questions in western KELOLAND. It's a project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to find out whether it is possible to store nuclear waste inside deep holes drilled in Haakon County.

Proposals for a borehole drilling project have already been introduced and rejected in Spink County. Now the question is whether or not this project should actually take place in Haakon County. 

RESPEC is a Rapid City-based company working to get a deep borehole drilling project started in Haakon County. Deep borehole testing is something that has never been done before in South Dakota. The process involves drilling a hole about 3 miles down into the ground, straight enough to put canisters into to store nuclear waste.

"There's a huge challenge for the United States and the global community, and that is, we don't have a very clear, viable solution to storing nuclear waste and disposing of it," Todd Kenner, RESPEC CEO, said.

Right now, RESPEC only wants to do research in Haakon County to see whether the area is even suitable to support the boreholes — no nuclear waste would be involved during the research process.

"We don't think that by performing the research and science here that there is any implied nature to having nuclear waste here," Kenner said.

RESPEC is currently competing with three other companies in the United States to find out who will get to drill the first borehole.

"The project has five phases, and four companies were selected for phase one and two, after phase one and two, the DOE will down select, so they'll go from four competing companies to one," Kenner said.

Phase one lasts five months and consists of public outreach and information in Haakon County.

Even though rancher TJ Gabriel knows no nuclear waste will be involved during the research, he believes it could lead to some storage in the future.

"They guarantee us that at the site, I will believe that, I do believe that, I really do. What happens if it works and they move a mile down the road to somebody that will let them store the waste there?" Gabriel said.

Gabriel has been doing his own research for months. Not only is he worried about what the future could bring, he is also very concerned that the proposed site for the project is only a little more than a mile from his ranch. He also wonders what will happen if RESPEC continues with the rest of the phases.

"These things that could go wrong with the drilling of the hole and bringing in people and trucks and it will be at our busiest times, at harvest, at planting, at haying," Gabriel said. "So then you start to worry about your kids helping on the roads, as a ranch family."

Yet, Kenner says the community could benefit financially from this project.

"At the local level, there's anywhere from $3.5 to $6 million of benefit," Kenner said.

Both sides have differing opinions, but both also agree that officials need to figured out how many in Haakon County are in support the project and how many are against it.

"We are working with the county commissioners in identifying a method to demonstrate public support," Kenner said.

Though there is no set timeline yet on when that will take place or even how, Haakon County Commissioner Steve Clements says several ideas are being considered.

"I think right now we're looking a possibly a straw poll, to send out in the paper or to Haakon County residents," Steve Clements, Haakon County Commissioner, said.

Though Clements admits commissioners won't be making any final decision on the method anytime soon.

"I'm not going to say one way or the other, there's probably some of us each way on the thing but I for right now I'm not going to speak for the other commissioners and we certainly haven't talked about it a lot," Clements said.

While both sides agree that something needs to be done about nuclear waste in the U.S., deciding what method is used is still up in the air.

"We believe that by doing this research and science on something that is critically important to the long term interest of the country," Kenner said. "It's impossible to even come up with solutions if we can't even take the first step and exploring the opportunities and researching those opportunities."

"We need to find a solution, I just don't think that this is it, I would have to look at other sources, and definitely not here, definitely not where people are trying to raise their families, and raise crops, cattle, and where there is a viable community here," Gabriel said.

Governor Dennis Daugaard has been supportive of the research however has said that there is no interest in the state of South Dakota for nuclear waste and that there would only be storage or disposal after a public vote in South Dakota.

For more information, visit RESPEC's website and the Citizens United for a Non-Nuclear South Dakota Facebook page.
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