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Radioactive disposal hearing set for Thursday

KILLDEER—The North Dakota Department of Health will be hosting a public hearing on Thursday, Aug. 3, to decide whether a Minnesota-based company will receive a permit for the disposal of radioactive materials.

"There's a lot of companies that haul (radioactive materials) on public highways," said Brooke Olson with the radioactive materials division of state health department. "They are licensed by us."

The 6:30 p.m. meeting will be held at the Dunn County Killdeer Shop Training Room to discuss a proposed issuing of a radioactive materials license to Excelsior, Minn.-based White Wing Limited. This license would approve the use of a "mobile solids processing unit" which is currently being stored in Alexander, N.D.

While the public hearing is set to take place in Dunn County, the result could impact McKenzie, Mountrail and Williams counties as well.

The materials in question, according to Olson, are known as technologically-enhanced, naturally-occurring radioactive materials (TENORM), which can consist of industrial wastes or by-products enriched with radioactive elements found in the environment. Public notice of this hearing has been available since June 26, but there remains a number of questions about White Wing Limited, and their process.

"(There are) a lot of concerns as to whether we're doing due diligence about who they are, how long they've been in business and whether they have experts in the area," said Joann Marsh, with Dunn County Concerned Citizens group. "I do not know a lot about them and I'm very interested."

Dunn County Concerned Citizens is a group of active county residents who keep an eye on large companies who plan to do business in the county.

"We've been going to the planning and zoning meetings," Marsh said. "They've been trying to put amendments to the land code to make a radioactive landfill. We've been trying to work with them to make sure there are legitimate requirements and protections for the local residents."

Dunn County Commissioner Daryl Dukart said that Dunn County is going through "a lot of changes" from its old planning and zoning regulations, with policies that would determine what strength of radiation would be permitted to be disposed of in the county.

"That'll be determined by the public and the commission at this hearing," Dukart said. "Hopefully it'll go through the commissioners ... and we'll get this moved along."

Dukart said public reaction has been pretty evenly divided, with some groups opposed, some in favor and others straddling the middle ground.

"If we're producing it in Dunn County, we should probably deal with it in Dunn County," Dukart said, echoing the position of those who support granting the license.

In Dunn County radioactive materials are most commonly generated as a result of mining operations, particularly from drill cuttings. Drill cuttings are the broken bits of solid material removed from boreholes drilled by rotary, percussion or auger methods, commonly seen in oil, gas and water wells.

"As a commissioner I am open to the discussion," Dukart said. "There's been a lot of input."

He said he wasn't really sure going in which way the commission will decide and all evidence will be weighed. For Olson and the health department, they want to weigh the straight, scientific facts.

"The company will go up and give some information on themselves ... basically they are going to give their public opinion and then we'll listen to it and we'll make our final judgement," Olson said. "We care more about the science."