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Nuclear waste storage study considered near Rugby

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Scientists plan to use state-owned land near Rugby to test whether extremely deep crystalline rock can be used to permanently store spent nuclear waste.

The State Land Board has made it clear that it wants a hearing on any application to use 20 acres of a state-owned section outside of Balta, about 15 miles south of Rugby in Pierce County, says board administrator Lance Gaebe.

Gaebe said the topic will be on the board’s Jan. 29 agenda, but it’s not certain whether there will be an application on the table, or whether team members, including the Energy and Environmental Research Center at Grand Forks, will simply provide information.

“The board heard some preliminary information in September and made it clear that anything about this project must be brought to them,” Gaebe said.

The Department of Energy recently awarded a $35 million, five-year contract to Ohio-based Battelle Memorial Institute to drill 3 miles deep in Pierce County to learn whether boreholes could be used to store spent nuclear fuel.

“This is an important first step to increasing our scientific understanding of the potential uses for crystalline rock formations, including the feasibility of boreholes as an option for long-term nuclear waste disposal,” said DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz in a statement.

DOE says no radioactive material will be used during the testing and that the work in North Dakota will increase understanding of other parts of the country that have similar geographically stable rock formations.

Moniz has identified boreholes as a possible option for disposing 1,936 radioactive capsules stored underwater at a facility in Hanford, Wash. There is no permanent place in the country to store high-level radioactive waste and, as a result, spent nuclear fuel is accumulating in storage casks at commercial nuclear power plants, according to the EnergyCentral website.

The Rugby field tests will help solve engineering and wellbore stability challenges, according to the DOE. Other team members are Schlumberger of Houston, a well service company in the Bakken, and Solexperts, of Switzerland.

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