Nuclear plant debate centers on legal right to Green River water

GREEN RIVER, Utah — A proposed nuclear power plant near the city of Green River would draw a negligible amount of water from the Green River, proponents said, but opponents criticized the project as an unproven venture that could upset the way the river is governed.

The Blue Castle Station with two 1,500-megawatt units would have a negligible effect on the flow of the Green River and would have little effect on wildlife or recreational use of the river, proponents told a panel of state officials in a hearing in John Wesley Powell River Museum in Green River.

Blue Castle Holdings is in the process of obtaining financing for the $100 million needed for the licensing phase, for which the company is seeking backing, officials said.

State officials should demand more certainty, said attorney John Flitten, who represents water-rights holders and others. The proposal as it is “raises the specter of speculation,” he said.

The Utah State Engineer’s Office ultimately will decide whether to approve 40-year leases from two downstream water conservancy districts that would provide 50,000 acre-feet of water to cool the plant.

Half the electricity to be generated by the Blue Castle station would be used in Utah, and the remainder would be sent to California and other states in the Southwest, Blue Castle Holdings Chief Executive Officer Aaron Tilton said.

Even with Blue Castle Holdings and other projects, industry officials expect much of the West will have outgrown its electrical supply by 2018, Tilton said.

Constructing the plant will require “a small town” of 2,000 to 4,000 people over the course of a seven-year construction period, Tilton said.

Operating the plant will require about 1,100 people earning an average $85,000 per year, Tilton said.

At the same time, using nuclear power will avoid emissions such as particulate pollutants common to coal or natural-gas-fired, electricity-generating plants, Tilton said.

The Blue Castle project would require about 70 cubic feet per second for cooling water, or about 50,000 acre-feet of water per year or about 1 percent of the approximately 4.3 million acre-feet per year on average flows past the city in the Green River, engineer Jerry Olds said.

During a low-flow year, such as the one the Green River experienced in 2002, the plant would require about 2 percent of the river’s flow through the town, Olds said.

The effect on the river and public recreation would be minimal, said Olds and biologist Tom Hardy.

Even that small of a diversion would be a “big impact on our operation,” said Green River resident Robert Quist, who operates a farm and a river-rafting business.

Two federal agencies, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, opposed the proposals, noting Blue Castle had not contracted with Reclamation for water from Flaming Gorge Dam.

Special care should be taken with the Green River, said Bart Miller of Western Resource Advocates. The Green River is seen as the most likely to contribute to the survival of endangered fish, he said.

“It’s the linchpin of the recovery program,” Miller said.

The city also needs support, Green River Mayor Pat Brady said.

“Green River desperately needs the economic life the Blue Castle Project would give us and pull us from the mire of poverty,” Brady said.

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