Judge upholds water rights for proposed nuclear plant

EMERY COUNTY – Wednesday a judge upheld a decision by the state engineer approving water rights for a proposed nuclear power plant in Emery County that would divert water from the Green River.

After a two-year study, State Engineer Kent Jones approved two applications by Blue Castle Holdings for water appropriation from the Green Valley River for the nuclear plant project. HEAL Utah, along with other groups, appealed the state engineer’s decision, which lead to a hearing in September.

HEAL Utah argued that water from the Green River was already over-appropriated and that there wasn’t enough for the plant to draw from. The group also questioned Blue Castle’s financial ability to complete the project.

Enough water?

Judge George Harmond, who presided over the hearing, said in his 26-page ruling that the water being applied for was previously approved in the 1960s for a coal-fired power plant that was never built. Now Blue Castle wants the water for its power plant project. The plant is estimated to take 53,600 acre-feet of water from the Green River and ultimately produce an estimated 2,500 megawatts of power.

According to the Colorado River Compact, Utah is allocated 1.4 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River and its tributaries, which includes the Green River. Harmond noted in his ruling that Utah had appropriated only 1 million acre-feet thus far, leaving around 400,000 acre-feet available for use. Conversely, HEAL Utah quoted the state engineer who said the water is “over-allocated on paper.”

Presently, applications for appropriation totaling 574,600 acre-feet of water from the Upper Colorado River Basin in Utah have previously been approved by the state engineer, the ruling stated. However, “because none of this water has been applied to beneficial use,” Harmond wrote, “it is unappropriated under Utah law.”

Certain requirements have to be met before the water is considered appropriated. Once they are, it is only then that the state recognizes the appropriation as valid and counts that water as no longer available. The application itself is seen as something akin to a notice of intent to use the water at some future point, and is not immediate.

The court finds reason to believe that there exists adequate unappropriated water in the Upper Colorado River Basin and Green River to support the applications,” Harmond wrote.

A question of financial feasibility

Blue Castle has already spent $17.5 million on studies and other items related to the project. The nuclear plant itself is estimated to cost between $15 billion-$20 billion to construct. HEAL Utah doesn’t believe Blue Castle will have the resources to finish the multi-billion dollar project. While Blue Castle is paying for the initial studies and so forth, the company is also soliciting investors, the ruling stated. As well, Utah law does not require that Blue Castle prove the project will be economically feasible when approving an application for water appropriation.

“It is clear that financing for nuclear power is inherently risky and that funding is difficult and highly selective,” Harmond wrote. “However, this does not mean that the project is impossible … It is far from certain that Blue Castle will find partners to construct the nuclear plant, but Blue Castle’s business plan shows the project, if built, will eventually be profitable.”

The ruling also noted Blue Castle has been speaking with at least 18 different utility companies that have shown interest in buying power from the plant once it is built and operational.

Moving forward

Though the judge ruled in favor of the state engineer’s decision, Blue Castle must still pass a host of requirements established by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which can take years to clear.

Matt Pacenzna, HEAL Utah’s policy director, told Fox 13 News that, while the ruling was a great disappointment, the fight was not over.

We will meet them at any venue that we need to and try to stop the proposed Green River reactors,” Pacenza said.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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3 Comments

  • Jason November 28, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Do we really need more nuclear plants?

  • Nicholls November 29, 2013 at 7:21 am

    i didn’t read or maybe over looked where the power will be used, is this another project for areas outside our state which leaves us the pollution and dangers involved with such a project ?

  • phil thum December 1, 2013 at 11:41 am

    I can’t believe how naive the people of Utah are to allow the courts, BLM and the State Engineers to allow this environmental disaster to happen in Utah. The statement the Judge made about how the water was already approved for a coal project in the 60’s is laughable and shows how little he understands what Nuclear power is or the damage it can do. Doesn’t matter nobody is listening the commercials on the
    TV are too loud.

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