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N.D. to examine more radioactive waste in landfills

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota health regulators approved a study costing $180,000 to explore the possibility of allowing higher levels of radioactive waste from the oil patch in state landfills instead of trucking it out of state.

Thousands of tons are created every year. Radioactive waste above five picocuries per gram can’t be disposed of in any landfill in the state, so oil field operators truck it to landfills in Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Montana, Scott Radig, director of the state Health Department’s special waste program, told the Bismarck Tribune. Those states allow from 30 to 400 picocuries, which is a measurement of radioactivity.

“This material is generated here and there is risk in transport, as well as handling. The question is how to manage it in as safe a way as possible,” Radig said.

Naturally occurring, low-level radioactivity in soil formations becomes concentrated on some oil field equipment and waste materials. The department and oil industry want to know if the regulated threshold can be raised so more radioactive waste produced in the state can be buried here.

The study by Illinois-based Argonne National Laboratories and approval of any new rules would take at least a year, Radig said.

Darrell Dorgan, who leads the citizen-based Energy Industry Waste Coalition, said his group believes the rule shouldn’t change.

“This isn’t a wink-wink game. This is about people’s lives. The oil companies knew the rules before they started drilling,” Dorgan said.

Argonne said it will determine the exposure risk for oilfield and landfill workers and those who live nearby. The firm will also look at the design of North Dakota’s eight oil field special waste landfills and the one industrial waste landfill to determine if any could safely handle radioactive waste.