The Nuclear Deal | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

The Nuclear Deal 

Nuke plant may be in Utah's future

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In 2009, Transition Power consolidated its development activities under the banner of Blue Castle Holdings Inc., named for a 5,800-foot-tall Blue Castle summit that would overlook the power generators located about five miles west-northwest of Green River in Emery County.

Tilton says that while water was a primary consideration in choosing a site for his plant, the site is desirable for other reasons. Low seismic activity and access to the electrical grid, freeway and railroad also drew him there. He says six organizations scouted the site for a nuclear power plant in the late 1970s, but suffered the backlash from the partial meltdown at Three-Mile Island in 1979 that led to the evacuation of 140,000 people. That accident, which terrified a nation and laid bare glaring holes in emergency planning, put nuclear power on hold in this country for three decades.

When interviewed in June 2010 on industry Website Nuclear Street, Tilton claimed opposition to the project within the community was nonexistent. He said, “Emery County has been very supportive and completed zoning changes and passed official resolutions supporting the building of nuclear power in Emery County. The City of Green River has also voted to allow the project to use land the city owns on the banks of the Green River for the intake structure for the water supply to the plant. The local populations are our biggest fans. … We have unanimous support from the county commission, both Republican and Democrat, [as well as from] the mayor and council of Green River City.”

Tilton’s friends at the Legislature did not disappoint, either. In 2009, in passing the Utah Senate Joint Resolution 16, the Legislature encouraged “investor-owned and municipally owned utilities and power marketers and traders to consider participating in a nuclear-power project in Utah.”

Even governors Huntsman and Herbert climbed aboard. In 2010, Herbert signed State Bill 242, which created tax incentives for alternative energy that included “nuclear fuel” in its definitions. Huntsman signed a similar bill in 2009. The tax incentive may rebate up to 100 percent of new state taxes paid by a new nuclear-power plant for 20 years.

It would appear that, politically at least, Tilton had sewn things up.

But the plant sparked debate beyond political circles. The allotted daily diversion from the Green River is equivalent to roughly 140 acre-feet, according to Jerry Olds. Blue Castle argues this is a small fraction of Green River’s average daily flow. Many Green River residents aren’t worried about the water, either. Tilton has assured them he won’t interfere with their existing water rights. Water-rights holders could even benefit, Tilton says, since excess water could be leased to the plant.

Green Dawn
In 2010, after a near 30-year pause on the construction of new nuclear plants, the future of nuclear power brightened. Obama set aside $8 billion in federal loan guarantees for two Georgia plants, and Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, introduced legislation “to further enable a nuclear renaissance,” which included a declaration of nuclear as clean and eligible for all tax breaks available to renewable energy sources. Other benefits offered to the industry included construction tax credits and tax breaks to anyone seeking certification as a nuclear engineer. (While the bill never reached a vote in the Senate, many provisions live on in various acts before the present Congress.) Construction on a second reactor at the Watts Bar plant in Tennessee resumed in 2007 after a 22-year suspension. Crews broke ground on new reactors in Georgia for the first time since 1974.

The crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami has cast doubt on this much-vaunted renaissance. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., are calling for a halt to any new nuclear plants until the disaster is fully understood.

Tilton doesn’t think his project will be affected. “Since the commercialization of nuclear power in the U.S. in 1957,” he explains, “[there have been] no injuries, let alone a fatality, from any exposure to radiation from a nuclear power plant.”

When speaking about the Fukushima disaster, he emphasizes that no member of the public has yet been harmed by fallout from the meltdowns. In a worst-case scenario, he says, “If you just evacuate people within a certain mile radius, there really isn’t any effect.” Some 80,000 Japanese residents of the evacuation zone might beg to differ: Their government has made it illegal to enter the 12.5-mile mandatory evacuation zone. Evacuees won’t be able to return to their homes for up to nine months.

For Green River residents, the appeal of the plant lies in the jobs generated by the project. Almost 2,000 workers will be needed during the five- to seven-year construction phase. Since there will be more workers needed than available in town, the company will have to attract labor from elsewhere. Once the plant is built, it will require around 1,000 permanent employees. Many hope that even if the construction workers don’t stay, the infrastructure and money will. At present, Green River doesn’t have a hospital, a pharmacy or even a full-time physician.

Willard hopes that “with the right push … we might get recognized enough for people to say, ‘Oh my heck, we’re here!’ ” Other Green River citizens talk about wanting their kids to be able to find work in the town where they were raised.

Keith Brady dreams that Green River “could become the biggest city in Emery County.” Workers, even temporary ones, will bring in other businesses and maybe even other industries. He’s met Tilton and trusts his business sense, describing him as “a good guy [and] excited about the project.” Brady also has confidence the permitting process will be rigorous enough to ensure the safety of his community.

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