Plan to cool proposed nuclear reactors with Green River water draws criticism

Posted at 9:59 PM, Sep 20, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-21 16:32:53-04

GREEN RIVER, Utah — About 5 miles northwest of Green River, a dispute over the water it was named for is spilling into court.

“This is by far our best, and in many ways only chance, to decide whether this is right for Utah or not,” said Matt Pacenza, who is the policy director of the environmental group HEAL Utah.

Next week, a judge will hear arguments over a 53,600 acre-feet body of water that’s been leased out by Kane and San Juan counties to power plant developer Blue Castle Holdings.

Last year, a state engineer approved the company’s request to use the water to cool its two proposed nuclear reactors. Not soon after, several organizations, including HEAL Utah, filed suit.

“That’s enough water to supply a city of 200,000 people, so it is a tremendous amount of water,” Pacenza said.

He claims that Blue Castle has failed to prove there is any interest or support for a project that he believes comes at a cost to the environment.

“Blue Castle is sort of hoping that at some point down the road they can sell this power cheap enough that they might find a buyer,” Pacenza said. “But they don’t have one now, and they don’t have investors willing to put up that kind of money.”

The company has not yet publicized who it would be selling power to, but attorneys for the water districts contend the customer base is there.

“The demand is there, and the demand is growing and is expected to be there in the future. This plant is looking very far into the future,” said David Wright, a partner at the firm Mabey Wright & James.

Wright explained that concerns about money will be addressed down the line, as the approval process calls for, which could take several years.

“It’s not answered quite that simply,” he said. “The company has spent a lot of money on this project so far. But the way the Nuclear Regulatory Commission process works is it’s very phased, and so you only have to spend money in phases as you move forward. The whole point of the licensing process is so you minimize risk.”

The groups listed on the lawsuit argue that the reallocation of the Green River water could impact businesses downstream. However, Wright expects construction of the plant to bring at least 2,000 jobs, followed by hundreds of permanent positions.

The hearing held in 7th District Court in Price begins Monday.