Company wants to build Uranium plant near Green River

The fourth time could be a charm for a nuclear-power plant in the shadow of the Book Cliffs overlooking the Green River valley at the west end of Energy Alley, the 150 miles from Green River, Utah, to Rifle.

Three times since the 1960s, said Aaron Tilton, CEO of Blue Castle Holdings, companies have sought to build nuclear plants near Green River.

“It’s a natural place” for such a plant, Tilton said,  Even though Green River sits within miles of some of the nation’s richest deposits of uranium in the canyon country of Utah and Colorado, it’s not the proximity to fuel that gives impetus to the project.

This time the project could work, Tilton said, because Utah is fast becoming power-starved as its population grows, even while coal and natural gas plants are denied in the permitting process.

“I see some real problems with electricity,” said Mike McCandless, who heads the economic-development effort for Emery County, home to Green River. “Utah is a net importer of electricity now. Rocky Mountain Power has had to cancel every project they’ve had.”

Rocky Mountain Power is part of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., which is owned by billionaire Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. The inability to win approval for gas-fired plants boosts the prospects of developing nuclear power in Green River, McCandless said.

Green River has an additional advantage in that it sits along one of the national energy corridors established under the auspices of the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

Congress ordered officials to designate federal land in 11 western states for energy corridors that would include oil, gas and hydrogen pipelines and electricity transmission and distribution facilities.

Utah isn’t alone in needing electricity. Arizona, Nevada and California also are hunting for electricity for their populations, Tilton said.

“This is the part of the nation that is growing the fastest,” and that’s driving the search for more energy in places like Green River and the rest of Emery County, McCandless said.

The nuclear plant, which would sit in the shadow of Blue Castle Peak at the base of the Beckwith Plateau west of Green River, would generate 3,000 megawatts of electricity, or enough electricity for about 1 million homes.

Transition Power Development, which owns the Blue Castle project, has hired a primary contractor, ENERCON, to prepare the company’s application for an early site permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The project also has an agreement with the Page, Ariz., Electric Utility that sets out the utility’s potential role as an owner of the project.

Blue Castle will begin a yearlong, data-collection process at the 1,000-acre site early next year as it opens its permitting effort.

Once the Blue Castle backers establish their water rights, more backers will emerge, Tilton said.

The nuclear plant is to operate using water diverted from the Green River upstream from the town.

Blue Castle will pay to transfer 29,600 acre-feet of water from Kane County and 24,000 acre-feet per year from San Juan County, both downstream from Green River. No water would be returned to the river once it’s heated to spin the generator turbines.

A hearing before the Utah State Engineer’s Office is to be scheduled on the proposed water-rights transfers. Opposition includes other water users and federal agencies that say the transfers would harm fish they are trying to keep off the endangered-species list, such as the roundtail chub and bluehead and flannelmouth suckers.

Emery County already has two coal-fired power plants, Huntington and Hunter, which together generate about 2,500 megawatts.

The Page, Ariz., utility has declared interest in buying power for its 8,000 customers from the Blue Castle nuclear plant should it be constructed in an industrial park west of Green River.

For McCandless, the nuclear plant is part of a many-pronged effort to make maximum use of the county assets.

McCandless also is working with developers who want to build a 40-acre, solar-voltaic field, and he’s optimistic that on the opposite side of Green River, a small refinery will start pumping out fuel from kerogen roasted out of oil shale.

Another company, meanwhile, Conductive Composites Co., is gearing up to manufacture a variety of electrically conductive resins, adhesives, coatings, composites and other systems from Green River.

“Green River is on a tipping point,” said Joni Pace, a local activist working to boost Green River’s economy.

The nuclear plant could be part of the reversal of the town’s fortunes, Pace said.

“I like it,” she said. “I think we need it.”

Amy Wilmath, who works on the town ambulance, runs the Green River Coffee Shop and sits on the planning and zoning commission, said she has some doubts as to the final site.

Wilmath said she worries about the possible air-quality implications for a project upwind from the town, as well as the ability of the town to supply the workforce needed to build and operate a nuclear-power station.

On the other hand, the town needs investment, Wilmath said.

“Any industry in Green River is a much-needed thing,” she said.


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