- Associated Press - Friday, May 6, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - There should be a careful review of a proposed federal test to assess whether nuclear waste can be stored in 3-mile-deep holes in east-central South Dakota and congressional input about the potential drilling project, a Spink County official said Friday.

Organizers have met opposition from county residents who are concerned in part because they don’t trust the federal government, said Dave Albrecht, chairman of the county’s board of commissioners, adding that he hasn’t made up his mind about the proposal.

Battelle, a nonprofit group hired to manage the U.S. Department of Energy project, is considering whether county sites would suffice for the study on whether deep rock is suitable for nuclear waste disposal, but officials have repeatedly said the borehole field test will not involve any radioactive waste. The contractor is touting a multimillion-dollar estimated state and local economic impact.

GOP Gov. Dennis Daugaard supports the project, but a spokeswoman for Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem said in an email that she opposes moving forward. U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds said in a statement that the proposal “furthers our state’s leadership in scientific underground research,” but said he would support the choice Spink County residents make for their community.

U.S. Sen. John Thune’s stance wasn’t immediately available.

Organizers have hosted meetings in the county to answer questions from the community about the proposed research, which also could involve geothermal energy. Another is scheduled for next week.

“I’m very concerned that this will turn into something more than just a test project, that it would ultimately result in the storage of high-level nuclear waste right in the heartland, and frankly, my backyard,” said Republican Sen. Brock Greenfield, who represents Spink County. “My distrust of the federal government is tremendous.”

Spink County, home to about 6,500 people, would not be good for storing nuclear waste in the future because the proximity of subsurface water makes it an unattractive site, according to organizers.

The drilling project requires state and local government permits to move forward. The contractor anticipates it would require special county approval to zone the land for the test, Battelle spokesman T.R. Massey said.

Massey said he understands people’s concerns, which is why the test’s backers are trying to be open and transparent with residents. The borehole would be filled in after the test is completed, he said.

There are tough decisions ahead and the county will take its time if an application is submitted, Albrecht said.

“That Benson block has been there for billions of years. I don’t think a few more months is going to hurt anything,” he said. “We’re not going to be hurried into this.”

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