- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

RUGBY, N.D. (AP) - The Pierce County Commission has placed a moratorium on deep bore hole drilling in the county, temporarily blocking a federal project some residents fear is a step toward nuclear waste disposal. Officials involved in the project say that isn’t the case.

The University of North Dakota’s Energy and Environmental Research Center is part of an $80 million federal Energy Department project to determine if deep crystalline rock is suitable for nuclear waste disposal.

Officials have identified a 20-acre site south of Rugby as a test area, and some residents in the area are wary.

Chuck Volk, who lives about a mile from the proposed site, said he thinks the federal government is targeting an area it considers “expendable,” according to KXMC-TV.

“It keeps me up at night,” he told the County Commission on Tuesday.

Brad Jacobs, another area resident, also is skeptical.

“If it does happen, I do believe we would be forced to throw nuclear waste down there,” he said. “Why would they spend that much money and not use it?”

EERC researcher John Harju said the project would not involve actual nuclear waste, according to The Bismarck Tribune.

“No one is requesting disposal of nuclear materials in the state or at this location,” he said. “This is a science and engineering project, not a nuclear waste disposal project.”

Test holes eventually would be plugged and abandoned, Harju said.

Commission Chairman Dave Migler said the moratorium is intended to slow things down until residents get more information. The county has scheduled a public meeting in Rugby on Feb. 16 to further discuss the project.

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