Residents concerned about nuclear waste
The borehole test is research for its disposal, according to the DOE.
January 18, 2017 | View PDF
Recent concerns from Quay County residents about the deposit of nuclear waste during a proposed deep borehole test near Nara Visa are understandable, according to Chip Cameron, ENERCON Federal Services Inc. spokesman.
“Public approval and community support are a top priority for this project,” Cameron said.
The Atlanta-based ENERCON and DOSECC Exploration Services of Salt Lake City were selected by the Department of Energy last month to begin exploring the possibility of conducting a deep borehole field test near Nara Visa in Quay County.
“There are increased concerns when the words ‘nuclear waste’ are brought up,” Cameron said. “In this case, we want to ensure the residents of Nara Visa and Quay County there are no trucks full of nuclear waste heading their way.”
Deep boreholes are narrow, vertical holes drilled deep into the earth, in this case to a depth of approximately three miles below the earth’s surface. The DOE is partnering with companies to study the feasibility of engineering deep boreholes. One of the field test’s main purposes is to collect data on the type of rocks, the chemistry of the water, the depths to these rocks and water, the temperature of the rocks and other geologic data to see if nuclear waste disposal is feasible in this kind of geology.
“The Department of Energy is researching different options to develop solutions for the long-term, sustainable management of our nation’s spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste,” said Lindsey Geisler, DOE spokesperson.
According to a DOE press release the deep borehole field test is research into the options the government has regarding such disposal. The ultimate goal is to determine if deep boreholes might offer a safe and practical alternative to mined geologic repositories for smaller forms of nuclear waste.
“It is important to note, if Nara Visa is selected for the test, at no time will any waste non or nuclear be placed into the boreholes being drilled,” Cameron said.
Concerns and objections to the proposed deep borehole test and the disposal of nuclear waste in the area increased locally following an article published in the Santa Fe New Mexican with increased phone calls coming into the county, according to County Manager Richard Primrose. Area residents have also begun conversations on social media to express concerns.
“The article was brought up for discussion after the Jan. 9 County Commission meeting,” said Franklin McCasland, commission chair.
The Quay County Commission unanimously voted on Oct. 10, 2016 to support the submission of a proposal by ENERCON and DOSECC to conduct the deep borehole test in Quay County.
McCasland said there has been an increase of inquiries from residents to the commissioners and county manager about the project since the article ran. He said many of the residents contacting the county for information are concerned about nuclear waste being brought into the county.
“When the county commissioners voted to support this project it was done so with the knowledge and understanding that no nuclear waste was going to be placed in the boreholes,” McCasland said.
McCasland said residents can contact the commissioners and county managers if they have questions about the project. He said if the project is awarded to the area it would be a boost to the county’s economy.
The article mentioned the nation’s growing stockpile of high-level nuclear waste and spent fuel awaiting a final resting place and noted a reinvested interest in 2012 for deep borehole use in waste disposal and increased interest after the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad was shut down in February 2014. It also mentioned that the Energy Department needs to drill 950 boreholes to store all of the waste sitting at 77 U.S. facilities.
“The Department of Energy has not calculated or generated any numbers concerning how many boreholes would be needed to store waste,” Geisler said, adding that the project is still in the first phase of an experimental test drilling designed to determine the feasibility of boreholes being used for disposal.
Three other counties in the U.S. — Otero County in Southern New Mexico, Pecos County in Texas and Haakon County in South Dakota — are also being considered for the test drilling because they share similar geologic similarities, according to a DOE press release and a DOE blog.
“I feel that it would be a benefit should the test come to our county,” said David Irwin, Nara Visa/Obar resident.
Irwin and his wife, Kay, live south of U.S. 54 opposite of Louis and Elaine James, who’ve agreed to lease 10 acres of their land to the government as a deep borehole test site.
“I don’t see any particular problem with the project,” Irwin said. “I have attended the meetings and spoke with the company officials and understand there is a slim to no chance any nuclear waste will be placed in the holes.”
Phone calls and messages to concerned residents were not returned.
Cameron said if Nara Visa's site were to be selected, the contract for this project specifically prohibits the storage, disposal or use of nuclear waste at the site of the deep borehole field test. He said it is important to note that no nuclear waste will be involved in this field test, nor will the DOE use any selected test site for the actual storage or disposal of waste in the future.
Cameron said if DOSECC and ENERCON win this bid the first bore hole of 8 1/2 inches wide would take five years to complete. He said depending on a successful drilling and the information collected, a second three-mile-deep borehole, 17 inches wide, would be drilled nearby.
“Once the test drilling is done the project is completed,” Cameron said.
Cameron said there will not be any further borehole development done at that site. He said the information generated by the field test will be used in future consideration to the feasibility of deep borehole waste disposal. There are numerous areas across the U.S. that share the same geological characteristics as the potential test sites, Cameron added.
Cameron said the deep boreholes will be capped and the surrounding land remediated. He said the boreholes would possibly be turned over to a college or university for geological studies and research.
“This project would be very beneficial to the local economy,” Irwin said. “It is also a chance to be a part of ground breaking research. Just like going to the moon, we had to start somewhere.”
Cameron said that public outreach meetings are planned to be held in February at Nara Visa. He said the meetings will be advertised to the surrounding communities to give all residents a chance to attend.