The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality has proposed a draft solid waste permit and radioactive materials license that would allow 13-Mile Landfill to accept material with a radiation level up to 50 picocuries per gram. The limit went into effect in 2016 after the state adopted new rules raising the previous cap of 5 picocuries per gram. The change followed a study by a U.S. Department of Energy lab that looked at worker and public safety amid higher radiation levels. It was controversial at the time, drawing lengthy hearings and a lawsuit from environmental groups.
Low levels of radiation occur naturally in soil, water and rocks. When those materials are removed from the ground, like in oil and gas production, radiation can become concentrated in filter socks used to strain oilfield fluids, sludge at the bottom of storage tanks and scale that forms in well pipes, according to Environmental Quality. That concentrated material is called Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material or TENORM, which is the type of radioactive waste Secure seeks to dispose of at its landfill.
Because no landfills in North Dakota are authorized to accept the higher level of radioactive waste under the new rules, TENORM continues to be trucked to disposal facilities out of state. At times, the waste has been found dumped illegally throughout western North Dakota. If approved, Secure’s 13-Mile Landfill would ensure that at least some of the radioactive waste generated in North Dakota stays here, legally. “At the end of the day, there’s a legitimate need,” said Kurt Rhea, corporate radiation safety officer and regulatory adviser for Secure. “This happens naturally, and somebody has to make sure the waste gets handled properly.”