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Nukes in Canyon Country?

by JOHN WEISHEIT

The nuclear power plant at Green River, Utah is a proposal of Blue Castle Holdings (BCH), which is an unregistered subsidary of Transition Power Development, a new start Utah limited liability company with no assets other than venture capital. The CEO is Aaron Tilton, a former member of the Utah legislature turned energy lobbyist. The BCH website is devoid of any pertinent information about the project and instead reads like a white paper to convince investors and the public that nuclear energy is the safe and affordable.

A possible alternative proposal to this turn key boondoogle is to place solar panels on every south-facing roof in sun-drenched Utah. Such a proposal would have broader public acceptance, is less expensive, faster to implement, uses less water overall, preserves open space, avoids massive vapor plumes in the viewsheds of national parks, and avoids the controversy of radioactive waste, leaks, accidents and issues of homeland security.

The electricity from the nuclear facility is targeted for the Wasatch Front (Salt Lake City) with surplus for Wyoming, California, Nevada and Arizona. It is also possible that the energy could be targeted to develop oil shale and tar sands in the Uinta Basin of the Colorado Plateau, which would resemble mountain top removal in Appalachia, or the destruction of the boreal forests and watersheds of Alberta, Canada.

The total cost is projected to be 16 billion dollars with a projected completion date of Unit One in 2020, which is too optimistic when considering the actual construction calendar of Unit One at Arizona’s Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Nor does the schedule and price tag account for protests, rallies, direct action and legal challenges from the general public. The Colorado Plateau does have, afterall, the highest concentration of national parks and monuments in North America.

Green River is a cozy, small farming town with sleep over motels, but the price tag does not consider the zero housing available for the necessary staff and construction workers of the power plant, nor the cost of improving basic utilities, services, schools, and the expansion of the city sewer system. Green River City doesn’t even have a hospital.

The proposed facility is located on 1,627 acres of School Institutional Trust Lands (SITLA) near the Intersection of Hwy 6 and Interstate 70, a few miles west of Green River City. SITLA is a state land agency that behaves like an obsessive real estate broker who would approve an oil derrick next to your grandmother’s garden without the decency of telling her.

The water intake would be near the I-70 bridge crossing the Green River with a high-security pipeline corridor to the power plant. The total annual amount of water to be consumed by the power plant is 54,000 acre-feet; there are no return flows to the Green River. There is no contract with the federal government to supply water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to the project in times of shortages, so when the demand for water is high in July and August, the withdrawal will pose a significant threat to endangered fish. Sandbar nursery habitats are closed to entry or exit when the river drops in elevation. This event can either reduce available habitat for juvenille fish, or strand fish that will then succumb to poor water quality or predators.

This project is really about securing more rights to water for the state of Utah, than it is about securing energy for the nation. Water in search of a project is another way of putting it. The decision before Utah Division of Water Rights is about approving the transfer of two water rights to Emery County, one from San Juan County and the other from Kane County. The original points of diversion (POD) are the San Juan River and Lake Powell. The two counties would lease their water rights to Blue Castle Holdings and then use those funds to develop small surface water projects in their perspective counties. In otherwords, this proposed transfer will increase the overall consumption of surface water in three Utah counties.

The problems are two-fold: surplus water does not exist in the Colorado River basin and the endangered species problem does.

The state of Utah is the last hope for the recovery of endangered fish species because the Green River flows free for 425 miles between Flaming Gorge Reservoir and Lake Powell. In the summertime the river flows are dangerously low due to over-consumption and evaporation. It is quite common to see comatose fish floating upside down along the Green River, victims of summertime hypoxia (lack of oxygen).

The other problem is the water supply of the Colorado River has peaked basin-wide. In fact, every metropolis in the arid west is at peak water. Their conservation programs are not about easing water stress for their communities, since the water savings is quickly converted into yet more urban sprawl.

Four species of native fish are endangered, and populations are augmented artificially from fish hatchery stock. Additionally, three threatened fish species in the Green River are approaching endangerment. If the looming fish problem is not solved soon, which is unlikely considering 28 years of unsuccessful programming, the fish will eventually get the higher priority for water. If the Endangered Species Act is gutted by Congress, the water quanity/quality problem would still exist in the form of Lakes Powell and Mead going empty. For example, Lake Mead only has to drop another 20 feet before cutbacks to Nevada and Arizona begin. If the problem escalates further, the hydrosociety will be dependent on a system called “run of the river” which is what existed before Hoover Dam was built. A return to dust, as it were.

The water agencies are not thrilled about the proposal of Blue Castle Holdings. The Bureau of Reclamation is concerned that water for the Central Utah Project is at risk. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned about the recovery of endangered fish, as is Utah Division of Water Resources.

There is compelling information for the State Engineer of the Utah Division of Water Rights to deny this water transfer application, but Blue Castle Holdings has the ear of the state legislature, which finds the time to pass dubious resolutions like denying climate change, scolding professors at Brigham Young University, and challenging the public ownership of federal lands in the court system with the legal fees paid for by the SITLA sleeze fund.

JOHN WEISHEIT, the Colorado Riverkeeper, is director of Living Rivers. He can be reached at: john@livingrivers.org

This article originally appeared in On the Colorado.

 

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