Aug 24, 2008
By Stephen Speckman
Proposals for a uranium mill and nuclear power plant near Green River, Emery County, are raising more and more eyebrows.
A group that says it seeks to protect Utahns from nuclear and toxic waste wants to know where high-level radioactive waste will go if the state allows a nuclear power plant to be built in an industrial park on state trust land near Green River.
Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah members also told the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration board of directors during a meeting Tuesday that the state isn't maximizing the trust's revenue potential by exercising an option to give the nuclear-plant owners first dibs on 1,600 acres in the new industrial park six miles from Green River.
HEAL policy director Christopher Thomas told SITLA board members that the deal, which could benefit Emery County coffers, in effect puts a cap on the price of the 1,600 acres.
"As I understand it, other potential buyers will now have to get in line behind the nuclear power developer, even if they wanted to offer a higher bid for the land," Thomas said.
Thomas wants land in the industrial park opened up to bidders.
The proposed plant's waste stream is another sticking point for HEAL. Thomas said the plant developer should guarantee a disposal place before being allowed to set up shop near Green River.
"Without that assurance, we don't know how long we'll need to manage that waste on site, who's responsible for it after the plant's useful life and just how much it could cost," Thomas said.
If Yucca Mountain ever gets going as a waste site, HEAL is worried there won't be enough room to store waste there from a Utah reactor.
Some are touting the plant's benefits.
Earlier this year Heritage Foundation research fellow Jack Spencer wrote that a proposal to build two 1,500-megawatt reactors in Green River would provide Utahns with "clean and secure" energy while possibly lessening the blow on industry from efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, blamed for global warming.
But water issues for the mill and plant may be a long way from being resolved.
Last fall Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, talked about building two reactors somewhere in the state. Tilton is an owner of Transition Power Development. Water from one of the units could come from the Kane County Water Conservancy District, directed by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.
If the plant proposed for construction near Green River is built, it will be in the same industrial park as a planned uranium mill.
In 2001 the price for a pound of uranium cost less than eight items at the Dollar Store. By last year, however, uranium soared to $138 per pound, which has renewed interests from prospectors with an eye on Utah's cache of yellowcake.
Last May Mancos Resources Inc. presented the Utah Radiation Control Board with a plan to operate a mine that will produce about 1,200 tons of uranium per day. It's unknown at this point where the uranium would be enriched or even if the neighboring plant would use it or rely on sources outside Utah.
Canada-based Bluerock Resources Ltd. owns Mancos, which now has an office in Green River, and it has 12 "uranium properties" in Utah and Colorado. The Mancos mill would employ more than 40 people, last about 50 years and result in a $125 million investment in Utah, with an "optimistic" start date of three years from now.
The group Uranium Watch is keeping an eye on how the mill might impact water resources. The mill would need licensing from three state regulatory agencies, including the Division of Water Quality. A hearing on water rights protests is set for Aug. 27 in Green River.
Aug 24, 2008
HEAL Utah was highlighted in Patagonia's Environmental Intiatives Booklet for our energy work in 2008
Aug 04, 2008
Nuclear Powered Debate
Questions arise as company eyes industrial park for possible nuclear power plant
James L. Davis
The prospects of a nuclear powered Emery County became a topic of discussion and disagreement during the July 15 meeting of the Emery County Commission.
During the public comments portion of the meeting John Urgo of HEAL Utah, an organization opposed to nuclear power, urged the county to reconsider supporting plans by Transition Power Development for a proposed nuclear power plant near Green River.
Transition Power has expressed interest in Emery County’s industrial park being developed outside Green River for the location of a nuclear power plant, and the county has signed an option contract with the company that allows Transition Power first option on purchasing acreage for the plant development.
From a slide presentation he discussed with the commission, Urgo said using history as a guide, betting the farm on a nuclear revival only gave the county a 50/50 chance of ever seeing it pay off. He said there have been more nuclear reactor orders canceled than completed in the United States.
If Transition Power did decide on the Green River site for development of a nuclear plant, the road to development of a plant is long and winding, and an initial application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission wouldn’t be filed until 2010, with construction taking years after that. Before a plant development got to that point the process would be exhaustive and complicated.
“Commissioner Kofford told me I was putting the cart before the horse in coming to the meeting, and while it’s true an application to the NRC might not be filed until 2010, and construction will take years, the county’s role could be done in a few weeks or months,” Urgo said after the meeting.
“I say this because the commission agreed to an option contract with Transition Power in April that goes into effect once the land deal is finalized with SITLA (State Institutional Trust Lands Administration). Mike McCandless (Emery County Economic Development director) told me this deal is being finalized through phone calls and emails and could become final in the next few weeks. So I guess my point is that if people in Green River or Emery County do have questions or concerns about this proposal, they won’t be able to turn to their local government once the SITLA deal is finished,” Urgo said.
McCandless countered that even when the SITLA process is finalized there would still be a great many possibilities for public involvement, starting with planning and zoning requirements. He said the option contract had very little significance at this point in time.
“All it does is allow them to do some studies to see if it is even a feasible site,” he said, indicating that the option contract is not in effect today and wouldn’t be until a lease agreement is finalized with SITLA.
During the meeting Urgo claimed that the county planned to use tax revenue for the development, but after the meeting he was able to get clarification on the issue from McCandless.
“After talking with Mike McCandless, it is my understanding now that these are new tax dollars that would come from the sale of the land, not existing tax dollars. The contracts for the sale are also going to be written so that Mancos (company planning to develop a uranium mill at the industrial park) and Transition Power have to put up some of their own money for infrastructure improvements. So I do believe that the deal with SITLA is structured to protect the taxpayers of Emery County from having to put up existing revenues for improvements that could then be lost,” Urgo told The Emery County Review.
With that said, Urgo pointed out that nuclear power is the most heavily subsidized energy sector in history and everyone will be paying tax dollars for any new nuclear power plants developed in the United States.
“My argument is that we shouldn’t give more of our tax dollars to an industry that has been around for 50 years and should be required to stand on its own two feet,” Urgo said.
During his discussion with the commissioner Urgo said the county would be better served to be looking at other, more environmentally friendly forms of power development. McCandless said that the county does talk to other developers. He indicated that he will talk to any developer that expresses an interest in the industrial park
“We have talked to a lot of energy companies. We talk to them all of the time. But they have to get to where they’re willing to spend money and so far Transition Power has said they’re willing to spend money,” McCandless said.
During the commission meeting Mark H. Williams of Castle Dale asked Urgo to tell him when the last nuclear accident had occurred in the country and indicted that he felt nuclear power was safe and would bring needed jobs into the county.
Urgo acknowledged that there hadn’t been an incident at a nuclear plant for more than 20 years and after the meeting said he understood some of the hostility toward the message he was bringing regarding nuclear power.
“I think the reaction was a result of me being perceived as an outsider trying to tell the county what to do. And I understand that, and the suspicion. I just hope people treat the companies coming in with the same suspicion. I also think people are suspicious because they’ve lived off the land for years, but in the last 25 years or so they’ve been told what they can and can’t do with their land more often. While it’s always been public land, no one outside these communities really bothered for years and it was left to local control. Now, people are being told what roads they can drive on, what areas are now off limits, what you can do with livestock. I think the environmental movement has done itself a great deal of harm by promulgating regulations from above and not starting first in local communities to try to build support, or at least consensus, for some of these changes,” Urgo said.
If the development of a nuclear power plant makes its first, tentative steps toward development, it will be the second business for the industrial park with a nuclear theme. Manco Resources Inc. is moving forward with plans to develop a uranium mill through the lease of up to 800 aces of land at the park. The uranium mill would produce 1,200 tons of ore each day and produce 2.4 tons of yellowcake. The uranium mill would be the first tenant of the new industrial park once the agreement with SITLA is finalized. The plant is expected to cost $100 million to build. A public hearing regarding the uranium mill development is being planned for September.
HEAL Utah is also opposed to the development of the uranium mill and points to the poor track record of uranium mills in the past in regards to safety and environmental stewardship.
“We’re still dealing with the past legacy with Atlas, the cancer cluster in Monticello, and there are residents in Blanding concerned about groundwater contamination from the White Mesa mill. It’s going to cost over $1 billion just to remove the Atlas mill tailings, and it cost a few hundred million to remediate the other sites that existed in Utah. Again, these are costs to taxpayers, not to the companies that created these messes,” he said.
Also speaking to the commission during the July 15 meeting was Sarah Fields of Uranium Watch in Moab. She expressed concern about the proposed uses of the industrial park and said that if the county sold as much as 1,600 acres to Transition Power for a nuclear power plant and another 700 to 800 acres to Mancos Resources for a uranium mill, that would leave very little of the 3,300 acres left at the industrial park for anything else.
“The plans for a nuclear power plant are going on under the radar. I have no knowledge of Transition Power having any meetings to discuss what they are wanting to do. I don’t think the county has a very good picture of what a nuclear power plant will mean next to the Green River,” Field said.
Aug 04, 2008
Nuclear plant remains a distant goal
by Ron Georg
Moab Independent Times Review
According to Transition Power Development chief executive officer Aaron Tilton, his company isn’t working on a nuclear power plant, which may or may not be located near Green River – they are working on a nuclear power plant site, which may or may not be located near Green River.
“There are two major decisions to make. The first is, do we license the site?” Tilton said. “The second is do we build the units that are now licensed? The way that we’re running our process, the decision has only been made to license. As to whether to build or not, that can come anywhere in a 20-year period. It may not make economic sense early on, depending on what is the capacity on the grid for the current consumers and utilities.”
For now, what they’re building is value, he said. “The sites will have value in and of themselves with the license associated with them,” Tilton said. “And it’s a separate decision, a value decision, for building the plant. It’s not as straightforward a question as ‘are we going to have a plant?’”
While the only site Transition Power has identified for a potential nuclear power plant is the new industrial park Emery County is developing on state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration property, Tilton emphasizes that it is only one of a number of options. “We have other sites that we’re looking at as well. Whichever site comes up with the best environmental characteristics, that’s certainly our primary concern, and that’s where we’ll go.”
With Colorado River water rights from Kane and San Juan Counties, Transition Power can operate anywhere from Flaming Gorge reservoir to Lake Powell. Tilton said the company has identified an unspecified number of private parcels where a plant could operate. The Green River site has gotten publicity because it’s necessarily part of a public process.
That process has attracted the attention of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah. John Urgo, outreach director for HEAL Utah, visited Emery County to address the county commission and to hold a public information meeting.
“We wanted to raise some concerns about the project, but mainly to tell the county that they’re one of the only state agencies which will have any say over this project, then it goes to the feds,” Urgo said. “We just wanted to tell people that, if you do have concerns, now is the time to raise them.”
Emery County economic development director Mike McCandless suggested that HEAL Utah’s concerns are misplaced, and that there is plenty of time to address the issues. “Frankly, we’re an energy producing county, so it doesn’t intimidate Emery County to have [a nuclear plant] as something being considered for the site. But there are so many obstacles, issues, public meetings, processes before we get to that point, it strikes me as funny that we’re having so much feedback at this point,” McCandless said.
Tilton also said it’s still early in the planning process. “Now it’s viable. But these are the very first stages. Licensing is five years, construction is five years. If everything goes without a hitch, you’re still talking 10 years.” And, as he noted, construction will be based on market forces.
However, despite the long process ahead, much of that will be at the federal level. Transition Power has already submitted a letter of intent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and they’ll begin the licensing process in 2010 – a process that Tilton said will cost $20 million to $30 million.
With those upfront costs, followed by billions of dollars in construction, nuclear power plants have never lived up to the promise of “energy too cheap to meter,” but Tilton says they can be competitive. “If you take the cost for kilowatt for plants using nuclear as the heat source to generate energy, it’s lower than the average cost for a coal-fired plant,” he said. “The difficulty in the ‘60s and ‘70s was every single plant was a one-off custom plant. Every plant they built was different than everything that had been built. That’s where the cost overruns came.”
Today, with standardized plant designs, Tilton said costs are more predictable. Once the plant is licensed, Transition will be able to use solid numbers to determine its economic viability.
Urgo wonders why Emery County would want to wait through that process. “The county has said they’re doing this because they want economic development and job creation, and Emery County is in dire need of that,” he said. “If this is really about economic development, why wouldn’t the county want a more assured bet?”
According to McCandless, the county didn’t pursue nuclear power, it just “dropped into our lap.” He’s been targeting other industries with his marketing for the industrial park – including alternative energy.
“I have talked to photovoltaic companies, I have talked to wind companies, and not just companies to deliver that power, but actually construction, like construct wind towers or photovoltaic cells,” McCandless said. “You know what, every other state in the county is targeting those same people. We want to have those kind of alternative companies come here, but, guess what, so does everybody else.”
In recent years nuclear power has enjoyed a shift in public perception as climate change has become perceived as a more immediate threat than the radiation danger presented by nuclear waste. Prominent environmentalists such as James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis, have come out to insist that deploying nuclear power immediately could stop the rise of carbon levels in the atmosphere.
Urgo said the pace of nuclear development, especially in this country, precludes that goal. “You have climate change scientists saying, ‘We need to do things now, right away, this problem’s getting out of hand,’” he said. “Sure, we need to take immediate action to reduce our carbon emissions – and a nuclear reactor is going to take 10 to 15 years to come on line, whereas the development of wind takes much less. In 2006 the equivalent of two nuclear reactors worth of wind power came online in the U.S., within a year. So that’s much more rapidly deployable.”
Still, Urgo acknowledged that his public meeting at the John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River attracted more nuclear power supporters than detractors. He said they see the alternative as becoming more like Moab. “When I was in Green River I found the last thing they want to be is the next Moab. They don’t want to be tourist-driven economy, but at the same time they want to keep their small town.”
Tilton agrees that Emery County has been gracious. “The local support has been tremendous,” he said. “I think people still have a few questions and it takes a little bit of education for people to understand what nuclear power is, and what it is not. Sometimes people think of mushroom clouds, and that’s not nuclear power.”
Urgo will continue his outreach efforts with Emery County residents, but he points out that nuclear issues are larger than the footprint of a nuclear power plant. “It’s not just an Emery County thing, it will affect people in Grand County as well,” he said. “But, unfortunately, Emery County calls the shots.”
© moabtimes.com 2008
Aug 02, 2008
Proposed policy shift would change face of nuclear energy in U.S.
By Brock Vergakis Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY -- A Republican proposal to begin drilling for oil off the U.S. coast includes provisions that would significantly alter the country's nuclear energy policy, potentially providing billions of dollars of profit for a nuclear waste disposal firm that the company's former lobbyist-turned-congressman has inserted into the bill.
Republicans, including President Bush, want to lift a federal ban on offshore drilling as a way to increase oil supply and lower gas prices. Recent polls suggest most Americans are in favor of lifting the ban, although Democratic leaders oppose it because of environmental concerns. Republicans had hoped to rush through a bill this week lifting the ban, but Democrats refused to allow a vote on it before their August break.
"Instead of allowing a vote on the American Energy Act, which would promote energy production, conservation and innovation to bring down fuel costs, they instead chose to simply skip town -- and leave Americans on their own to pay the price," House Minority Leader John Boehner said in a statement Wednesday.
Congress reconvenes Sept. 8 and the issue is expected to remain at the forefront of the national debate on energy throughout the presidential election.
The bill Boehner is pushing includes numerous energy proposals unrelated to offshore drilling. Among other things, it calls for removing congressional oversight of a fund meant to build the country's first high-level nuclear waste dump, provides federal subsidies to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and eliminates any need for new nuclear power plants to reasonably prove there will be a future disposal site for their waste.
The proposal would allow the Department of Energy to use money being saved for a permanent high-level nuclear waste disposal site in Nevada to pay for reprocessing spent fuel, possibly setting back the already delayed the project even further.
The Yucca Mountain facility was originally supposed to open in 1998 but has been dogged by rising costs, lawsuits and political controversies. A congressional committee was recently told the best-possible opening date is now 2020 and that the price tag is expected to be $90 billion, up from an original $58 billion estimate.
Republican leadership's proposal is effectively the same bill introduced weeks earlier by U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, a former lobbyist for EnergySolutions Inc., a Salt Lake City-based nuclear waste disposal firm that has recently increased its donations to Bishop's campaign, other congressmen and its spending on federal lobbyists.
"If EnergySolutions and their nuclear zealot friends in Congress are successful in pushing this agenda, they stand to make hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, in federal contracts doing that work," said Vanessa Pierce, executive director of HEAL Utah, a nuclear waste watchdog group.
"This is EnergySolutions' golden goose."
EnergySolutions did not immediately respond to a request for comment and several questions from The Associated Press.
Nobody in the U.S. currently processes nuclear waste, although it is done in Great Britain, France, Japan and Germany.
EnergySolutions owns the right to technology in Great Britain that's used for reprocessing there and in 2006 won part of a $16 million federal grant to study building a reprocessing facility in Atomic City, Idaho, Barnwell, S.C. and Roswell N.M.
"If we can establish the recycling of spent nuclear fuel it will help facilitate increased use of safe, clean nuclear power, which is so important for the environment and for our nation's efforts to lessen our dependency on foreign sources of energy," CEO Steve Creamer said at the time.
Reprocessing was originally developed in the United States to build the atomic bomb, but fears of nuclear proliferation led to it being abandoned in the late 1970s. It became legal again during the Reagan administration, but it's so expensive that no companies are doing it.
The U.S. National Research Council estimated in 1996 that beginning to reprocess the country's spent nuclear fuel rods would cost at least $100 billion. After reprocessing, about 99 percent of the high-level waste would still need to be disposed.
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