Residents of Alexander heated up over radioactive waste proposal

ALEXANDER -- The city hall in the hometown of North Dakota's gentle environmental giant -- former Gov. Art Link -- started warm and only got warmer Thursday night when citizens there to learn about radioactive waste at a proposed landfill just no...

Russ Timmreck, of Alexander, said the McKenzie County Commission, needs to get involved in shutting down a proposed radioactive waste landfill near Alexander before it gets started. He spoke up an an informational meeting Thursday night at the town's city hall. PHOTO BY Lauren Donovan/Bismarck Tribune

ALEXANDER -- The city hall in the hometown of North Dakota’s gentle environmental giant -- former Gov. Art Link -- started warm and only got warmer Thursday night when citizens there to learn about radioactive waste at a proposed landfill just north of town started their own discussion.

The 75 or so who attended left supper tables and ranch work to come into a meeting sponsored by the Dakota Resource Council to provide information about the waste stream. Indian Hills Disposal has made an application to dispose of up to 50 picocuries of radioactive waste at its site, a permit that’s still being evaluated by the State Health Department under its new disposal rules.

An opposition Facebook page has nearly 450 members and citizens said they want to stop the site before it gets started. The meeting gradually turned into a heated talk about how to take local control over the situation.

Gene Omstead, will live south of the landfill, said he’s worried about the dust that would blow off the special waste landfill -- like it already does without the addition of radioactive waste -- and cover the surfaces in his and his neighbors’ homes.

“Most homes are not dust-tight; it’ll get on the countertops, food. I don’t have health issues, but what will it do to longevity? The man-made pit liners will leak someday and the waste will get into groundwater, migrate to the river and everybody will get a dose of it,” Omstead said.


The new rules would require the material to be covered daily and contained in lined and deeply covered permanent pits.

Paula Mrachek said she was at the meeting because her three grandchildren who will live a few miles from the proposed site. “I’m worried about their safety,” Mrachek said. “I’m trying to figure it out, but I hope to stop it.”

Darrell Dorgan, who organized a North Daktoa Energy Industry Waste Coalition, said the oil boom has been beneficial in many ways, but the introduction of radioactive oil field waste disposal is a very bad idea.

“You’re being asked to double down,” he told the audience, describing tonnage projections that would have thousands of trucks loaded with radioactive waste traveling down the highway annually, leaving a trail of radioactive dust behind them.

He urged folks to get organized against the disposal site. “It’s your call…but the health department is supposed to protect the citizens of North Dakota, not the oil industry.”

Larry Heilmann, a molecular biologist, gave a college-level short course on radioactive materials and how they harm the body and take thousands of years to break down.

“It can be handled safely, but they’ve got to have the will. Somebody has to take the job to force the state government and the oil companies to do it right,” Heilmann said. “We’re not against radioactive waste disposal, we want it to be done properly and safely.”

He said citizens should ask how many radioactive waste inspectors the health department has, how many will permanently be assigned to each disposal site and the details on their training and instrumentation.


Russ Timmreck, of Alexander, had some strong words after listening to the discussion. “What are we going to do as a group? Can our county commission close this thing and throw ‘em out of here? The wolves are here…there’s people who are going to die over there,” he said.

County commissioner Doug Nordby said the county doesn’t have a radiation limit in its industrial zoning. He explained some issues the county’s trying to resolve, like local inspection and a requirement that trucks hauling radioactive material have to be tarped and covered. “We’re trying to play catch up. I don’t know how that’s going to work,” Nordby said.

Tri-Township board member Larry Novak said the McKenzie County Commission is aware of the township’s sentiment and will hopefully be supportive. “We are pushing as a township,” Novak said. He said it was critical that folks filled out a special survey and turn it in. “We’ve got a plan, I can’t tell you what it is, but you need to fill those out,” Novak said.

BJ Lindvig, a Tri-Township officer, said the locals have put up with dust, traffic and boom fallout for years. “We’ve put up with our fair share. If they want it, it can go Bismarck or Fargo,” she said.

Novak said the township will hold as many meetings on the topic as people need.

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