By Dan Lorimier, Chapter conservation coordinator
Many Otero County residents breathed a sigh of relief in May when the U.S. Department of Energy withdrew its proposal to drill a 3-mile borehole in Otero Mesa to research the storage of radioactive waste.
The DOE had identified five potential sites for its test site, one in Otero County. The other possible locations were in Quay County, New Mexico; Pecos County, Texas; and two South Dakota counties.
The test would require drilling a 8.5-inch-diameter hole down 16,000 feet. If that were successful, they would attempt an 18-inch hole — also 3 miles deep. The object of drilling the larger borehole would be to determine if the hole is straight enough to accept nuclear waste canisters all the way down.
While the promoters of the project (TerranearPMC, the developers of the drilling technique) said it was only a test, would be fully remediated and would never be used for the storage of actual radioactive waste, their assertions were widely questioned. The location in southeast Otero County is privately owned.
Activists, believing the environmental and cultural impacts on Otero Mesa and concerned that despite promises, the “test” site would end up being a nuclear-waste disposal site, filled the Otero County Commission Chambers for the April and May meetings to voice their concerns.
Then, on May 23, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that it will no longer support the Deep Borehole Field Test nationwide due to constraints in President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal.
This is not likely to spell the permanent end to the borehole test in Otero County. Peter Gram of TerranearPMC, quoted in the Alamogordo Daily News, said “I believe it will happen. It’s just a matter of the timing of it.”
Featured image from Concerned Citizens for Nuclear safety.