Native Sun News Today: Drilling test in treaty territory stirs concern

“The Oglala Sioux Tribe just southwest of you has declared its reservation a nuclear free zone,” the tribe’s Natural Resources Regulatory Agency Director Reno Red Cloud said a public meeting held February 7, 2016, to discuss plans for a deep borehole test in Lakota treaty territory. “We have a deep concern because we know everything around nuclear is radioactive,” he said. Photo by Talli Nauman

‘Deep borehole’ test in Lakota Territory stirs ‘deep concern’
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor

PHILIP –– After tribal authorities and other public meeting-goers roundly questioned proposals for drilling deep boreholes to test nuclear waste disposal technology here in 1851 Ft. Laramie Treaty territory, the company with the federal contract to gain acceptance of the idea announced another meeting on the subject in Midland.

The proposals the company first laid out to the public at the Philip meeting on February 7 are to drill an 8-inch-diameter hole to a depth of three miles in Haakon County, and if the results of the experiment are promising, to drill a 17-inch-diameter one, the width needed to sink casks of high-level radioactive waste to a granite bedrock tomb.

Consultants from the nuclear engineering firm Respec, which has the contract with the U.S. Department of Energy, travelled here from their base in Rapid City to convince neighbors of the chosen 20-acre site in Haakon County that the Deep Borehole Field Test is, in proponents’ terms: “... a unique, one-of-a-kind opportunity for the people of South Dakota to be on the forefront of solving some of our world's greatest scientific challenges.”

Community acceptance is the first step in Respec’s feasibility study contract. If the community consents, the project would be a “test” to see if the rock in the area is “appropriate” for nuclear waste disposal, the staff of the employee-owned company said.

Respec President and CEO Todd Kenner emphasized, “There is no waste involved with this project. This site will never be used for storage or disposal. We will have a legal obligation to plug and abandon both those holes and restore the site.”

Kenner said drilling the first hole and analyzing rock from it alone would provide paid research opportunities for 10 South Dakota School of Mines & Technology students. Respec was founded in 1969 by professors from the school in Rapid City.

The site would be in unceded 1851 and 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty territory, between the nearby Indian reservations of the Oglala, Rosebud, and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes, which, like the rest of the tribes in the state, have legislated nuclear-free zones in the totality of their jurisdictions, federally recognized under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

Three-time elected Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Councilor Bryce In The Woods spoke at the meeting about the violation of the treaties as a reason for mistrusting the company’s promise to keep radioactive waste out of the picture.

“Once the School of Mines learns a lot of good things,” nuclear waste disposal will follow, he warned. “This is what they are going to do. You’re going to be looking at leaking out,” he said. “From the point of view of our treaties with the United States, they’ve broken all of them,” he told a standing-room-only crowd of at least 100 people assembled in Philip at the meeting that Respec billed as the first of a number.

Midland resident Jen Jones echoed his concern over the federal involvement, saying, “This is not Respec’s project. They’re going to do the research and it’s going to look good for them and the School of Mines and South Dakota. But it is the Department of Energy’s project to find a disposal repository for nuclear waste, and that is the end game of the feasibility study.”

Jones’ group Citizens United for a Non-Nuclear South Dakota urged meeting participants to help “stop the drilling before it starts by vocally opposing the DBFT in Haakon County to our commissioners, city council members, state legislators, and federal representatives through phone calls and emails.

Read the rest of the story on the Native Sun News Today website: ‘Deep borehole’ test in Lakota Territory stirs ‘deep concern’

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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