On Jan. 20, Utah State Engineer Kent Jones approved Blue Castle Holdings’ application to lease and divert 53,600 acre-feet of water from the Green River to the company’s proposed nuclear-power plant. The decision took over two years and sparked controversy throughout Utah, inspiring more than 200 individuals and groups to make comment protesting the plant.
Leading the charge against Blue Castle are a wide range of environmental groups, including HEAL Utah and the Utah Rivers Council. A press release issued by HEAL Utah indicates that Blue Castle’s opponents are looking at issuing a formal appeal that could end up in court.
The state engineer is instructed by law to approve any application that he has reason to believe meets the state’s criteria: that the water is available, its use won’t disrupt existing rights and the project is viable “physically and economically,” among others. This means that the decision is decidedly not a political statement, but a signal that the proposed project so far meets the state’s requirements.
In the decision, Jones was careful to note that the application’s approval is not a guarantee that the plant will always have unfettered access to all 53,600 acre-feet. According to a press release from the Division of Natural Resources, the design selected must be adaptable to changes in the water supply. Aaron Tilton, CEO of Blue Castle (pictured above), said last year in an interview with CW that the plant will be able to cut its water usage in half for 20 days and could even cease withdrawals altogether for 10 days.
There are still several environmental issues that must be addressed. Blue Castle’s plans will have to account for the four endangered species of fish that live in this stretch of the Colorado River and ensure that the diversion doesn’t jeopardize their habitat. Interestingly enough, the press release issued by the DNR makes no allowances for the effects of man-made climate change, stating simply that Jones found no model that “has been scientifically validated as a definitive predictor of future conditions.” Bodies such as the U.S. Geological Survey have predicted severe drying in Utah’s future. However, with local politicians, Tilton and Jones all expressing skepticism about man-made climate change, it remains unknown whether Blue Castle’s (or Utah’s) plans will take the possibility of acute aridity into consideration.
The next step for Blue Castle is procuring an Early Site Permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal body charged with ensuring the safety of the country’s nuclear-power plants. The review of Blue Castle’s application is scheduled for 2013.
For more on Green River’s nuclear future, check out The Nuclear Deal, a 2011 City Weekly cover story profiling Tilton and the origins of the Blue Castle Project.