Over three evenings this week the Department of Health has invited the public to learn about and comment on new regulations that will regulate low-level radiation waste within the state. These are levels so low that they compare to the radioactivity found in granite countertops installed in homes.
What’s been most evident from these meetings is that the opposition is almost entirely organized by the Dakota Resource Council, and that the nature of the opposition is uninformed, unscientific, and full of drama.
Take for instance leading DRC member Darryl Dorgan’s comments: “To me, if the oil industry provides the samples for the study, it completely invalidates the study.”
Dorgan has laid a specious argument which falls flat in the real world. What would Dorgan propose as an alternative? Would he like the state to drill hundreds of oil and salt water disposal wells itself? The cost would run into the billions.
Other testimony at the Department of Health hearings was similarly ill-informed. Demonstrators generally attacked the credibility of any expert offering information running contrary to their narrative, and despite their oh-so-great concern for the issue, clearly none of the activists read the research and recommendations from Argonne National Laboratory.
Not one of the demonstrators showed any understanding that one day of playing in the sun exposes a child to more radiation than holding a filter sock for 24 hours, nor did one make any connection to the fact that a beer and carrots each contain 80 percent of the picoCuries allowed under current rules.
Of course, not one of the activists thought to mention that the new limit of 50 pCi/g fall far below limits of 1,800 pCi/g and 10,000 pCi/g in California and Utah.
You can see in the chart below that the average soil in western North Dakota barely meets the current state limit of 5 pCi/g. If you dispose of your cat’s kitty litter, you may regularly be illegally dumping radioactive waste. God forbid you throw away a granite countertop under the state’s current rules.
To be sure, this is a complicated subject that very few people fully understand. However, we are letting protesters set a dangerous precedent where neon signs and sensational testimony rise above true science and the discussion of meaningful ideas among experts on both sides of the debate. What may surprise you is how those sides are not lined up as you might expect. Observers in the room report that oil industry experts most often aligned with reasonable, environmental commentators, both of which proposed faults in the field-practicality of the health department’s new regulations as written and pitched constructive ideas and solutions for the department’s representatives.
One thing is clear in the discussion: those loudest in the room are not equipped with science, nor do they care. They have a larger, singular mission to shutdown a private industry, begging the question, what industry is next on the DRC’s list?
Judging by their recent activities, it’s likely agriculture.
Here is a handout of information from the Department of Health regarding NORM. It provides facts and context to cut through some of the hysteria circulating regarding radioactive material. This is a serious issue, worthy of debate and scrutiny, but it deserves a more serious level of discourse than noisy environmental activists are engaging in.