NIMBY Attitude About Rugby Borehole Project Is Unfortunate

According to the Bismarck Tribune a proposal for a deep borehole project near Rugby got stomped by people attending a public meeting about it.

“Based on mostly negative comments, applause and a show of hands against it, any formal land use application is probably dead on arrival in the county,” the Tribune reports.

That’s really too bad.

I can understand that the potential for radioactive waste disposal in our state caught a lot of people’s attention. Why wouldn’t it? It’s perfectly reasonable to have concerns.

But concern is one thing. A “not in my back yard” sort of bullying aimed at a project which seeks to increase our knowledge about how to safely dispose of radioactive material is quite another. And that’s all this was, really.

We’re talking about storage systems which could be used to store radioactive waste, sure, but that sort of waste disposal could not happen in North Dakota without it first going through the rigors of the democratic process.

University of North Dakota President Ed Schafer submitted a guest post to SAB recently touting the project. UND’s Energy and Environmental Research Center is organizing it.

“To be clear, there is no radioactive material involved in this project,” Schafer wrote. “The proposal focuses on gaining a better understanding of the feasibility of drilling a hole deep enough — 16,000 feet — to help scientists learn more about the general characteristics of these types of rocks at these deep levels. This will help researchers better understand the potential impacts of deep storage systems.”

We’re talking about storage systems which could be used to store radioactive waste, sure, but that sort of waste disposal could not happen in North Dakota without it first going through the rigors of the democratic process. Our lawmakers would have to change the law to allow for it, and local leaders would have to give their blessing as well.

Those are big hurdles – a lot of thoughtful and engaged people to convince – before any waste could be stored anywhere in the state.

Which is why the local reaction to this – fueled by some sensational headlines about “radioactive waste” and overheated claims on social media – is so disappointing.

Nuclear energy could be a very important part of America’s energy mix. I think most people agree with that. But in order for nuclear power to work, we have to figure out how to safely dispose of the waste.

What the people in that public meeting yesterday are telling us is that they object to even research into safe waste disposal. That’s really unfortunate.

I get it. Radioactive waste is dangerous stuff. But how are we ever going to learn how to deal with it, how to dispose of it properly, if we can’t even do the research?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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