Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Borehole test drilling project abandoned


The U.S. Department of Energy announced Tuesday it is abandoning a test meant to determine whether nuclear waste can be buried far underground. That’s because of changes in budget priorities, the agency said.

But the plan’s critics and supporters, at least in Quay County, all say the battle is far from over.

The Trump administration sent Congress a federal spending plan that seeks $120 million to revive the mothballed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. The repository was closed in 2012 after heavy opposition by former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.

In December, the DOE announced it was exploring potential sites for the 3-mile deep borehole test in South Dakota, Texas and Quay and Otero counties in New Mexico.

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 Department was partnering with companies to study the feasibility of engineering deep boreholes.

In Quay County, Atlanta-based ENERCON Federal Services and DOSECC Exploration Services of Salt Lake City had hoped to conduct the test on 10 acres owned by Louis and Elaine James at Obar.

“This is an issue that is going to come back up,” said Elaine James.

James said even though President Trump has proposed to fund the Yucca Mountain repository, nuclear waste storage is an issue the entire country still needs to address. She said the project has met with stout opposition, yet that opposition focused on the “what if they store nuclear waste here” instead of the research.

“There is very much a need for this type of research; I feel that it has only been pushed back,” James said.

Cydni Wyatt of Nara Visa, one of the project’s most outspoken critics, said her first response was to be overjoyed. But she said the truth is area residents need to remain diligent in their opposition.

Wyatt said this doesn’t mean the project has been scrapped.

“We need to continue to work on getting legislation in place to protect landowners from allowing this kind of invasion from happening again,” she said.

U.S. Sen. John Thune said in a statement that he’s glad the Trump administration has decided to end the project in the wake of strong public opposition. A spokesman for South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said in a statement that he didn’t object to the test as long as it wouldn’t have led to nuclear waste storage in his state.

Officials in North Dakota and South Dakota had previously rebuffed project organizers over nuclear waste concerns.

Waste from commercial reactors in the U.S. now is stored onsite at nuclear power plants. The waste generated from defense activities is kept at a few secure locations.

— The Associated Press and Quay County Sun Senior Writer Thomas Garcia contributed to this report.


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