Then there is that debate so familiar to Utahns: the issue of nuclear waste. Used rods of uranium are radioactive and dangerous and remain so for centuries. The Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository has been abandoned by the Obama administration as a solution for the storage of high-level waste. As a result, any waste generated by the Blue Castle facility would have to be stored on site for up to 100 years. Tilton wants to see the spent fuel eventually reprocessed and reused, as a considerable amount of energy still resides in the used uranium rods. No reprocessing facilities exist in the United States, but Tilton doesn’t see a problem with the storage of the used fuel. He asserts that it’s safe and has a low environmental impact. According to Tilton, all the used fuel from 60 years of plant operations will fit on one and a half acres.
“I don’t think [this storage] makes sense with Utah’s history of opposing the storage of high-level waste,” says Sarah Fields, longtime activist with Uranium Watch. Sitting in her Moab office, she raises her hands and gazes upward, as if looking at a great weight threatening to drop. “The whole community is under the weight of that reactor operation for decades,” she says.
Fields is convinced the project will never get off the ground. “What the NRC does not like is an application that does not have all the [required] information,” she says. She recites a considerable list of bureaus and agencies the NRC will have to consult while exploring the permit, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The Bureau of Reclamation, she adds, is currently engaged in a two-year water-balance study that might result in changes to Utah’s water allocation from the Colorado Compact, which divvies up the river water among the states in the Colorado Basin. Fields, Quist and several experts all agree that the Colorado River, of which the Green River is a main tributary, is greatly over-allocated under the compact.
The ultimate decision now lies in the hands of the state engineer. Tilton expects a ruling on the diversion by the end of this year. He foresees no trouble with either the Division of Water Rights or the NRC. He points out that every early site permit applied for since 2007 has been granted. Tilton and his associates will pour $100 million, all private money, into the site before breaking ground. “We wouldn’t be doing that if it wasn’t really secure,” he says. Noel is a little less confident. He says the application has taken almost a year longer than most. If it passes the state engineer’s muster, he gives it better odds, but still doesn’t regard the plant as a certainty.
Assistant state engineer John Mann knows a decision approving the diversion will draw the ire of activists, while a rejection might provoke the company to protect its investment. “We’re most likely going to end up being sued by either party,” he says. Add this to the five-year permitting process and projected five to seven years of construction, and it becomes clear that Utah will have a long wait for nuclear power. Meanwhile, Nancy Dunham marvels at the astonishing amounts of money being poured into the project to begin the early site permit application at the NRC, hundreds of miles from Green River. Turning to Larry Carter, she remarks, “Imagine what we could do with that $30 million.”