- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

RUGBY, N.D. (AP) - Officials with a federal project to determine whether deep rock is suitable for nuclear waste disposal told Pierce County residents that proposed testing in the county is not a step toward burying actual nuclear material there.

But many residents and officials remain skeptical, fearing that the government might bring nuclear waste to the site in the future.

“You have no guarantee that nuclear waste will not be dumped in this area 20 years from now, 30 years from now. We are looking out for the future of our kids,” Mary Hager, a commissioner in neighboring Wells County, said during a public meeting Tuesday in Rugby that drew hundreds of people.

The University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center is part of the $80 million U.S. Energy Department project. UND researchers want to drill test holes 3 miles into the ground on 20 acres of state-owned land near Rugby - holes that officials say would be plugged when the testing concludes.

“This is not a nuclear project. This is a science project,” said Andrew Griffith, deputy of nuclear energy for the Energy Department.

Griffith also said the government won’t force the project on Pierce County if residents object to it. Pierce County commissioners earlier placed a moratorium on deep bore hole drilling in the county while they decide whether to give their blessing to the project.

“It’s not going to take a genius to figure out what people want,” Commissioner Mike Christenson said.

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