McKenzie County landfill could be first to take radioactive waste under new ND rules


WILLISTON, N.D. – An oilfield landfill south of Williston is the first facility in North Dakota to propose accepting radioactive waste under new state rules.

IHD Solids Management LLC has submitted applications to the North Dakota Department of Health to accept radioactive waste that’s a byproduct of oil development and is currently being shipped out of state.

The facility, in McKenzie County along U.S. Highway 85, proposes to begin accepting waste with radioactivity levels of up to 50 picocuries per gram under new Department of Health rules that took effect this year.

Health department staff plan to review the application materials, which could take at least two to three months, and then seek public comment on the proposal, said Scott Radig, director of the Division of Waste Management.

Health officials also have been told a landfill in Williams County is close to submitting an application, Radig said.

The IHD facility, which dates back to the mid-1980s but was significantly upgraded in 2011, will not require any design changes to accept radioactive waste, said Chris Kreger, environmental manager for the facility. The landfill will need to add some new operating procedures, including a radiation safety plan and additional training.

The type of waste the facility proposes to accept – known as technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material, or TENORM – would include tank bottoms, sludge and filter socks that fall under the state’s limit of 50 picocuries per gram.

Kreger said the level of radioactivity of the waste would be slightly above the radiation that a granite countertop gives off and below the radioactivity level of phosphorus fertilizer.

The primary safety concern for the type of radioactive material the landfill would accept is if people handling it would inhale or ingest it, Kreger said.

“So our operations are going to need to be centered around avoiding that inhalation or ingestion concern,” Kreger said. “If everybody does what I train them to do, the chance that anybody or anything can get contaminated is really low.”

Kreger said he anticipates the facility will accept radioactive waste from about a 50-mile radius.

“We expect that we’re not going to be the only one that ends up getting this license,” Kreger said.

The process to get approval through the health department requires two steps. One application is to modify the landfill’s existing permit as an oilfield special waste landfill and a second application is for a radioactive materials license.

The health department will seek public comment after doing an initial review of the application and will hold a public hearing if one is requested.

Changing state rules to accept radioactive waste received public criticism, including from the Dakota Resource Council, which said it plans to continue its opposition during the public comment period for the landfills.

“People are really concerned if these landfills are going to go radioactive near them,” said executive director Don Morrison.

A legal challenge to the state rules is still being considered by the Dakota Resource Council and the North Dakota Energy Industry Waste Coalition. The two groups requested an attorney general’s opinion in October on whether the State Health Council violated the open meetings law during the process to adopt the new rules.

“Before we move to another step, we need to see what the AG says,” Morrison said.