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Tribune editorial: Radioactive waste site a positive step
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Tribune editorial: Radioactive waste site a positive step

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Radioactive waste generated in North Dakota no longer has to all be shipped out of state. After years of effort, a site for disposal of oil field radioactive waste has been approved and is operating.

It’s overdue. The state shouldn’t be shipping all its waste to other states. Much of it goes to a site in Glendive, Montana, but Idaho, Colorado and Oregon also receive waste from North Dakota. Trucks haul nearly 100,000 tons of waste to the states each year.

Landfills in North Dakota were unable to accept the radioactive waste before 2016. At that time a new cap of picocuries per gram for waste disposed at landfills was established. It’s now at 50 picocuries. Most of the radioactive waste generated in the state falls under that level.

When the new cap was established there was hesitancy among local residents, county officials and some landfills about the safety of accepting the waste. Some counties delayed action on requests for disposal sites to study the issues. Some companies dropped plans for sites.

It’s understandable that residents, especially those close to a proposed site, would have safety concerns. They were worried about the truck traffic and the impact of burying the waste underground.

KT Enterprises begin disposing of waste in April at a site near Johnsons Corner in McKenzie County. It buries the waste thousands of feet underground. The disposal method used at the site is the same as the technique used in Louisiana, Alaska and other states.

The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality and other state agencies are responsible for monitoring the KT site and any other sites that get approval. It’s estimated that the state will need between three and five facilities to meet the demand for disposal.

The state believes it has the right procedures in place for inspecting and monitoring the waste sites. Agencies should be prepared to tweak their policies if they learn more in the future.

Some North Dakotans might prefer that we continue to ship the waste to other states. The term radioactive tends to make some people nervous. However, trucking the waste to other states raises safety concerns over possible accidents.

In the past some ignored the requirements to dispose of the waste. Hundreds of bags of filter socks, which often contain radioactive material, were found dumped in an abandoned Divide County gas station in 2014. It wasn’t the only case of its kind. More recently, radioactive waste from North Dakota was illegally dumped in an Oregon landfill.

Hopefully, having radioactive waste disposal sites in the state will discourage illegal dumping.

The state needs to handle the waste it generates and not expect other states to do so even though they get paid for it. State agencies should be diligent about enforcement of rules regarding the disposal of the waste. Violators should be treated firmly.

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