The Pierce County Commission shut down any opportunity to drill an exploratory borehole near Rugby that would allow researchers to probe any potential for nuclear waste disposal.

On Tuesday, the commission unanimously voted to tell the Energy and Environmental Research Center “thanks but no thanks” for the project, which the EERC wanted to conduct on state-owned land to help the federal Department of Energy determine whether crystalline rock 3 miles deep could be used for storing spent nuclear fuels.

“We want them to know we’re not interested in this project,” said commission chairman Dave Migler, adding the county did not have a drilling application from EERC and wanted to pre-empt any attempt to submit one.

About 300 people attended a public hearing in Rugby Feb. 16, and it was clear from comments made that there was very little support for the project, he said.

“We have no regrets at all,” Migler said of the county’s position.

That leaves the EERC with a partnership in the $35 million federal project and nowhere yet to drill. Associate research director John Harju said the county’s action is consistent with the public meeting and not unexpected.

“A lot of people couldn’t believe that it was about science and technology. I know it is, but I fully respect their self-determination,” said Harju, adding that the EERC, the DOE and project lead Battelle Memorial Institute will keep talking and figure out what’s next.

Migler said people in the county understand the research aspect of the project, but remain worried that nuclear disposal could happen in the future, despite reassurances from EERC, DOE and Battelle to the contrary.

“It didn’t leave our mind that it sure could happen, maybe not in my lifetime, but in the life of my grandchildren and great-grandchild. We just don’t want it,” Migler said.

Harju said the partners will keep looking for options.

“It’s too soon to say whether we will or will not look in North Dakota. It’s not about the location, but the similar conditions of crystalline rock, which exists in much of the United States and much of the world,” Harju said.

The DOE wants to study at the rock to determine if it is stable and sequestered enough for long-term storage of spent nuclear waste capsules.

(Reach Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or lauren@westriv.com.)

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