Fight the Green River Reactors Now!

In 2007, then-Rep. Aaron Tilton announced plans to build two nuclear reactors on the Green River in southern Utah (site pictured below.) His dream was to construct the first nuclear power plant in the state and produce 3,000 megawatts of electricity.

South of Green River, UT in Labyrinth Canyon

At first, most observers didn’t take Tilton’s plan seriously. The Springville Republican had zero nuclear power experience. Before winning a House seat, his business career included stints running a vegan restaurant, selling inspirational audiotapes and selling prescription drugs online.

Several years later, however, Utahns had better start heeding Tilton’s plan to site nuclear reactors at the gateway to Canyon Country. His company, Blue Castle Holdings, now has a management team of nuclear industry heavyweights, including a former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) chairman.

Blue Castle has secured land on which to build the plant about four miles northwest of the town of Green River. They currently await approval from the state engineer on whether the plant can use 50,000 acre feet of water from the Green River to cool its reactors.

In 2012, State Engineer Kent Jones backed their bid. A coalition of organizations and water rights holders then challenged the decision and a trial is scheduled for September 2013. This trial is important. Without it, Blue Castle’s plans will move directly to the NRC, an agency notorious for cozying up to the industry it allegedly regulates. Assuming the company can find buyers for its power, and secure construction financing, Aaron Tilton’s dream may just become Utah’s nightmare.

HEAL Utah and many others are working hard to defeat the Green River reactor proposal. We’re convinced nuclear power is a terrible choice for the state’s energy future:

It Uses Too Much Water. The Green River reactors would consume as much water as Washington County, which includes St. George, and has a population of more than 135,000. Our already scarce water supply will soon become even scanter: Utah is the second driest state in the nation with a population slated to double in the next 40 years. Do we really want to allocate this precious water to nuclear power for at least a half-century, instead of to homes, businesses and farms?

It’s Costly. Nuclear remains one of the most expensive sources of electricity, with independent analysts estimating a per kilowatt-hour cost of at least 13 to 18 cents, much more than what Utah (7 cents) or the nation (10 cents) pays today. That hefty price tag is why no one has built a nuclear power plant in this country since 1977. Wall Street won’t even loan money to utilities for nuclear power, because of its skyrocketing costs. Proposals to build new reactors depend upon federal loan guarantees to get off the ground.

It Poses Risks. Utah would need to grapple with the spent fuel rods that reactors produce, high-level nuclear waste stored on-site which remains dangerous for centuries. And then there is the possibility, even if remote, of a Fukushima-style accident. The impacts would be devastating: The reactor site is close to the world-renowned rafting destinations on the Green River, Desolation and Gray Canyons. Downriver, of course, are the jewels of America’s national park system, Canyonlands and the Grand Canyon. What if there were a release of radioactivity, even a minor one, into the Green River? Tilton has said that a Fukushima-style disaster could never happen, because earthquakes are unlikely. However, what the Japan nuclear tragedy should teach us is that any event which disrupts cooling water to reactors – such as severe storms, floods, fires, terror attack, equipment malfunction or human error – can quickly spiral out of control and have terrifying consequences.

There are Better Alternatives. Given that our organization also has serious concerns about burning coal to produce electricity in Utah, it’s reasonable to ask: What’s your plan for keeping the lights on? In 2010, our organization designed a homegrown energy system for Utah. We laid out a blueprint for transforming our power supply by 2050. Our system combines Utah’s best wind, solar, and geothermal resources with proven storage technologies. Everyone knows that renewable energy is clean and safe, but our study proves that it can also be affordable and reliable. In addition, it uses much less water than nuclear power and burning fossil fuels – a critical issue in dry Utah.

The time is now to defeat Aaron Tilton’s bad idea. We need to lobby the state engineer to deny the project the water it needs, and encourage the state legislature to reject any and all bids to force Utah utility customers to buy this risky and costly power.

Utahns must make clear to our officials that it’s time to turn our back on costly and dangerous power sources like nuclear power and instead embrace a 21st Century energy economy.

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