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Daugaard Responds to Blog Commenter: Nuclear Waste Dump Hinges on Public Vote

Last updated on 2016.06.22

Heck, the Madville Times works as well as FOIA!

Donald Pay's posting here that Daugaard Administration might be angling to bring a nuclear waste dump to South Dakota got some attention in Pierre. Sioux Falls paper says Governor Daugaard is "denying reports" (reports? mine was the only one!) "that the governor last year volunteered South Dakota as a possible site for a long-term storage facility for nuclear waste." The Governor's office has released Daugaard's February 22, 2012, letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the document that sparked this conversation. The letter, cc'ed to our Congressional delegation, reads in full:

Dear Secretary Chu, [what? formal letters put a colon here!]

I am writing in support of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and their efforts to secure funding for research in our state's extensive shale formations. South Dakota possesses the expertise and experience to develop a comprehensive research program focused on shale, and I am supportive of efforts to further expand such research activities within the state.

In regard to the investigation of shale as a disposal medium for spent nuclear fuel, I see no reason not to conduct this research, as long as this proposition does not obligate the state of South Dakota to accept nuclear waste. Any such decision will be made based on the results of rigorous scientific study and a vote by the citizens of South Dakota. I will not support the storage of spent nuclear fuel in South Dakota without an affirmative public vote.

The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, with support from private research and engineering firms, is prepared to conduct research crucial to the energy future of the United States, and I urge your support. Thank you for your consideration.



Dennis Daugaard [letter, 2012.02.22]

Daugaard spokesman Tony Venhuizen soothes our nuclear nerves:

Tony Venhuizen, the governor’s director of policy and communications, said the letter was sent to promote a “theoretical research project,” and not a “feasibility study.”

“I think the clear message from this letter is pretty deep skepticism from the governor on actually storing this stuff here,” he said [Jonathan Ellis, "Daugaard: South Dakota Not Site for Nuclear Waste," that Sioux Falls paper, 2013.06.14].

Venhuizen and Ellis both overtag the Governor's letter. The Governor does not express deep skepticism. He certainly does not, as Ellis's headline pretends, say that South Dakota won't host a nuclear waste dump. He does not issue a Janklovian ban on nuclear waste and vow to place Highway Patrol troopers at our borders to stop any such hazardous materials from entering our state. He says that if rigorous science and 50%+1 of South Dakota voters support it, he'll support nuclear waste in South Dakota.

I appreciate Daugaard's now-on-the-record commitment to science and democracy on an issue as important as this. But neither the letter nor Venhuizen's response undercut Donald Pay's original thesis. The state is promoting research (due at the end of this month, Mines researcher Bill Roggenthen tells Ellis) that could lay the scientific foundation for a campaign to bring a nuclear waste dump to South Dakota. The appointment of former Congresswoman Heather Wilson, with her connections to the nuclear industry, as president of the School of Mines, positions the school and the state to direct resources at producing and selling the case for a nuclear waste dump.


  1. Donald Pay 2013.06.15

    Cory, you are on the same track as I am. Bill Roggenthen has been an active supporter of past efforts to bring nuclear and other waste to South Dakota, so put me in the skeptics category for the moment. The Govenor's letter seems more an effort to provide him some cover while he plays footsie with the DOE and nuclear industry, rather than a real position. Of course, so was Bill Janklow's bombast, which was about as truthful as Daugaard's letter. I would really like just a simply explanation of what his position is, and how he's implementing it. How and when is this vote going to occur, and does he have DOE assurance that it will be binding on them. South Dakotans need to have this conversion now, because the train is about to run over you.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.15

    It might be nice to read that letter as standard state boilerplate, helping the Regental system win another $150K in federal research dollars. But you are right, Donald: we need to know more about what strings might be attached and the impacts that will come if this science becomes the basis for a campaign to sell voters on a South Dakota nuclear waste dump.

    Roggenthen has indeed done research on shale and waste disposal in South Dakota. He's also worked with the Homestake lab. Curious: are there shale formations at the bottom of Homestake?

  3. Donald Pay 2013.06.15

    I have a lot of respect for Perry Rahn, whose Vitae you have pulled up, and William Bangsund who did some work with Roggenthen back in the 1980s. I don't want to go on a witch hunt here. Let's just say Roggenthen has a history on this issue that might make one be skeptical.

  4. kurtz 2013.06.15

    Shale is the sedimentary rock deposited by the erosion of mountains. Homesnake is metamorphic and igneous.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.15

    No witch hunt intended—just making some casual Google notes on Roggenthen's research experience. We should ask him to send us a copy of the draft of the current study.

  6. kurtz 2013.06.15

    call bill harlan.

  7. Barry G Wick 2013.06.15

    Honestly, I just think we ought to take nuclear waste and use it for fracking...that way, when your toilet explodes, it'll be hot water and not such a physical shock when you get splashed. Plus, you'll glow just enough to find your way out of a dark house and to the hospital. There are benefits to everything.

  8. Donald Pay 2013.06.15

    Yes, Cory, I would recommend a complete dump of the records on this. I'm sure the other states studied will be very interested, as well. Nebraska had an even bigger and longer fight on radioactive waste than South Dakota, so I would expect them to be very concerned.

    "Transparency" is the sexy word for what needs to happen. I think South Dakotans should see the proposal to DOE, any agreements and correspondence between the DOE and the researchers, any correspondence with between the researchers and/or DOE and any and all state agencies. It can probably be obtained under FOIA, and just to be legal about it maybe formal requests ought to be made. I'm sure the study will be public when it's completed.

    A prediction which will drive Mike Rounds brother-in-law crazy: somewhere near Igloo.

  9. Douglas Wiken 2013.06.15

    The abandoned Minuteman sites would have been excellent dumps for low level nuclear waste had they not been collapsed. More or less bomb proof, vandal proof, and leak proof.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.15

    Barry, your comments give us all a healthy glow. :-)

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.15

    Nuclear missiles, nuclear waste... Doug, can you hear Marvin Kammerer saying, "Same damn thing!"?

  12. kurtz 2013.06.15

    good eye, doug.

  13. kurtz 2013.06.15

    kinda poopy of ellis for not mentioning madville, imo.

  14. Charlie Hoffman 2013.06.15

    Cory if 50+1 is good enough for a tax increase does that not also apply equally hard/easy for accepting any public vote for any public project?

  15. Jana 2013.06.15

    Is this like the "I wasn't at the Qdoba or in Rapid City" disclosure non-disclosure from Tony V?

    Tony, what is they say about trust lost and the ability to regain it?

    How about we try GWB's incredible wisdom:

    "...fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

    Nah, that was incoherent. Let's try this one:

    “I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you” - Friedrich Nietzsche.

    I'm guessing that the road to restoring trust will be a long one.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.16

    Charlie, I do not question the validity of majority rule (with, of course, constitutional protection of minority rights). I'm just saying that the Governor dodges the question of where he himself stands on the question of storing nuclear waste in South Dakota. Saying you're willing to put it to a vote of the people is very different from saying you don't want it... and the latter is the message Venhuizen and Ellis try to send.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.16

    I don't mention the name of his paper; he doesn't mention mine. Turnabout's fair play, I guess!

  18. Donald Pay 2013.06.16

    Here's another point that's troublesome. Look who got copied--Sen. Johnson, Sen. Thune and Rep. Noem. It's pretty disappointing that none of them raised any questions or sought wider public input. Both Johnson and Thune were around for the waste battles in the 80s and 90s, so they should understand the historical significance and likely fallout of Daugaard taking this step.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.06.16

    I can understand Thune keeping quiet, just like the GOP administration. But Johnson? How about a heads up?

  20. Donald Pay 2013.06.16

    I won't give Thune a pass. He should know this issue is radioactive in a number of different ways. Looking like he's whoring out the state to the federal DOE won't sit well with 10th amendment conservatives.

    And Rounds? What's his position? The guy has a history of supporting all things nuclear and waste importation, and he has a brother-in-law who worked at the leaking Hanford site and practically glows at the mention of "radioactive waste."

    You look at where this study is concentrated: red states. Nothing could provide more unexpected Democratic Senate victories than Republicans trying to turn the West and Midwest radioactive. Thune ought to know that. That's why he should have been very concerned.

  21. Donald Pay 2013.06.17

    A few sites with information to study for the wonks out there.

    The site below provides most of the documentation for the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, which is any attempt to set the nation's nuclear policy on a better footing. There are links to reports on the Storage and Transportation component and the Disposal component. There are some valuable "lessons learned" in the report, though much of it is just a continuation of public relations efforts to improve the image of the civilian nuclear industry. It is noteworthy that Congress has not acted on any of the recommendations, so we can assume that the bad practices at DOE will simply continue on.

    My favorite organization on things nuclear is Nuclear Information and Resource Service. They can keep you abreast of what's going on in Congress. Right now there is a bill regarding "Mobile Chernobyl," which is putting the nuclear waste on the highways to an interim storage site. This is a current issue, so South Dakotans may want to pay increasing attention, and influence how your Senators and Representative vote.

  22. Donald Pay 2013.06.19

    A 2010 study on disposal of high-level radioactive waste in shale conducted by Sandia Labs. Heather Wilson received funds from but didn't have to provide any "deliverables" to Sandia Labs. The current South Dakota School of Mines and Technology study is now the second recent study of shale.

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