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Haakon County residents worried about nuclear waste project

PHILIP (AP) — A proposed federal effort to assess whether nuclear waste can be stored in 3-mile-deep holes is raising the ire of some Haakon County residents in western South Dakota.

Two other prospective sites in North Dakota's Pierce County and South Dakota's Spink County were abandoned when local opposition turned the project away, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Rapid City-based engineering consulting firm RESPEC and the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology are seeking a $35 million contract from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund the project. RESPEC would drill an 8-inch borehole 3.2 miles into solid granite, only to see if it could be done.

"It's a very unique project," RESPEC spokesman Todd Kenner said. "The aspects of the project make it one of a kind when you combine the depth of the borehole, the diameter of 8 inches, and the tolerances."

The two entities have held meetings with the Haakon County Commission to explain the project — which Kenner says is the first of its kind and the deepest hole ever drilled in South Dakota — and gauge public support.

More than 40 county residents mostly expressed their concerns about the future of their land, their water and their children at a public meeting.

But Gov. Dennis Daugaard has said he supports it for its scientific and research aspects, but that the state "in no way should be seen as a repository for spent nuclear waste, because we're not."

The project needs county and state approvals to advance.

Kenner said if the project overcame the regulatory hurdles, drilling likely would not begin until 2018 at the earliest.

The deep borehole project was proposed to learn how to drill basement rock for nuclear waste storage.