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Questions on radioactive waste

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opinion Jamestown,North Dakota 58401
Questions on radioactive waste
Jamestown North Dakota 121 3rd St NW 58401

The Bismarck Tribune

Drilling and fracking oil wells generate radioactive waste. The amount of that waste generated in the Bakken exceeds North Dakota’s 5 picocuries per gram standard, and can’t be disposed of in the state. It gets trucked to Colorado, Idaho, Texas and some recently to Montana.


How much and how hot the waste is depends on the well and the fracking. But with as many wells as are being drilled in western North Dakota, it’s a serious issue.

The North Dakota Petroleum Council has asked the state Health Department to raise its standard. It’s a request that deserves consideration.

The state Department of Mineral Resources, Health Department and oil industry formed a task force in February to look at the issue and develop a study.

Argonne National Laboratories of Illinois will do the $180,000 study. The company will be paid by the Petroleum Council. The parameters of the study will be designed by the Health Department, which we have been told will ensure there’s no conflict of interest.

For industry, the issue is cost. Estimates are that 75 tons of potentially radioactive filter socks are generated each day. Safely hauling that amount over a long distance isn’t cheap. Disposing of the radioactive waste generated in North Dakota locally would be less expensive. And there are environmental risks associated with long hauls and potential accidents.

For the people of North Dakota, the issue is safety — public and environmental. Most states that take radioactive waste top out at 400 pCi per gram. Disposing of such material requires a great degree of sophistication in engineering, inspection and maintenance. It’s expensive and, by its nature, radioactive waste remains a risk for decades and more.

The study must provide credible information about the risks of disposing of radioactive waste. Don’t expect a black-or-white final conclusion. Rather, expect a range of levels of risk and costs.

A final decision by the state will be a matter of informed judgment of risk.

Fortunately, the Health Department has taken a methodical, cautious approach to the study. Estimates are that it would take a year to complete the study and any process leading to rule changes. That’s certainly better than rushing into things.

If the radioactive waste is created in North Dakota, then what is the state’s responsibility, if any, in disposing of it? Can that radioactive waste be disposed of safely in North Dakota?

These are questions that must be answered. We think the state has a degree of responsibility. And the study should answer the second question: Can we do it safely?