ST. GEORGE – The trial to decide whether the Utah state engineer appropriately gave water rights to the Blue Castle Group for a new nuclear power plant wound down yesterday in Price. Lawyers for both the plaintiffs and defendants gave closing statements, and now the case awaits a decision from Judge George Harmond within the next 60 days.
The plaintiffs, HEAL Utah, Uranium Watch, Living Rivers and a number of other organizations and individuals, contend that Utah State Engineer Kent Jones did not make the right decision when he approved a change of water rights application, giving Blue Castle the right to annually use 53,600 acre-feet of water, roughly 17.4 billion gallons, from the Green River.
“There are probably two main points” Blue Castle President and CEO Aaron Tilton said. These points concern availability of water, and the financial ability of the company to complete the project. The state engineer is required by law to asses all of these areas and make a decision.
“(HEAL Utah is) raising questions about whether the state engineer’s decision was thorough and comprehensive” HEAL Utah Policy Director Matt Pacenza said.
Blue Castle stuck to the evidence that they presented during the original hearing back in 2012; that is, Tilton said, “the expert testimony of our experts in support of the data we provided earlier.” However, he said, the major difference between this trial and the previous hearing is that “the applicants and the protestants have the ability to cross-examine each other.”
Concerning the availability of water, HEAL Utah argued that there is not enough water for Blue Castle to produce the 3,000 megawatts of electricity that it proposed. In order to back up this claim HEAL Utah brought to the stand Arnold Gunderson, a former nuclear industry executive.
“Arnie (Gunderson) basically went through a bunch of math and examples of different plants and how much water they use,” Pacenza said, “which, I think at least, proved that in fact it’s not enough water.”
Blue Castle disagreed. “(Our experts) concluded that there was,” Tilton said.
Once again, Blue Castle referred to the testimony presented in the earlier hearing given by a former state water engineer, Jerry Olds.
HEAL Utah also called into question the viability of Blue Castle’s business plan. This plan needs to be practical and feasible before state engineers can assign water rights.
“It just comes back to the feasibility of whether they really have a business plan,” Pacenza said. “The kinds of people that have money to consider investing in nuclear have passed on investing in this project. …They have no money, they have almost no investors and no market for the power so how could this be a viable business plan?” Pacenza said.
Blue Castle argued that the company has a viable business plan.
“The change application can be approved because we are not speculating, we’ve actually put an enormous amount of money, by anybody’s standards, into the feasibility of it,” Tilton said.
Blue Castle also claimed they do not need to bring in investors until later in the project.
“At the appropriate time is when we allow (investors) to come in, and when we think there is strategic relevance in their participation,” Tilton said. “Right now we don’t need anyone else to come in and do those things.” He said that currently the company “has spent approaching $18 million.”
Judge Harmond will have to consider these competing viewpoints and is expected to make a decision within the next 60 days.
If Harmond affirms the change of water rights application, then Blue Castle will move forward with the project and continue developing the site. If they lose, the issue will not be settled. Tilton said: “We will not give up on the project. We will appeal the decision.”
This case did not focus on the issue of public safety concerning the nuclear plant. If the application is affirmed, then a more thorough examination of public safety will be taken up by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission before Blue Castle is allowed to build.
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