The pros and cons of nuclear power have been debated for decades, it’s expensive in the short term but cheap in the long term, it’s a ‘clean’ power source but potential hazards do exist, and it takes a lot of water to run a power plant. A nuclear power plant has not come online in the United States since 1996. A proposed plant near Green River, built by Blue Castle Holdings of Provo, is going through the pre-permitting process with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — a process that is expected to be done by 2016. The plant would take five years to build, and wouldn’t be operational until 2021.
Is nuclear power a good or bad idea in Utah?
By Matt Pacenza
In 2007, then-Rep. Aaron Tilton announced plans to build two nuclear reactors on the Green River in southern Utah. His dream was to construct the first nuclear power plant in the state and produce 3,000 megawatts of electricity.
At first, most observers didn’t take Tilton’s plan seriously. The Springville Republican had zero nuclear power experience. Before winning a House seat, his business career included stints running a vegan restaurant, selling inspirational audiotapes and selling prescription drugs online.
Four years later, however, Utahns had better start heeding Tilton’s plan to site nuclear reactors at the gateway to Canyon Country. His company, Blue Castle Holdings, now has a management team of nuclear industry heavyweights, including a former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) chairman.
Blue Castle has secured land on which to build the plant about four miles northwest of the town of Green River. They currently await approval from the state engineer on whether the plant can use 50,000 square feet of water from the Green River to cool its reactors.
If State Engineer Kent Jones backs their bid, Blue Castle’s plans will move to the NRC, an agency notorious for cozying up to the industry it allegedly regulates. Assuming the company can find buyers for its power, and secure construction financing, Aaron Tilton’s dream may just become Utah’s nightmare.
HEAL Utah and many others are working hard to defeat the Green River reactor proposal. We’re convinced nuclear power is a terrible choice for the state’s energy future:
- It Uses Too Much Water. The Green River reactors would consume as much water as Washington County, which includes St. George, and has a population of more than 135,000. Our already scarce water supply will soon become even scanter: Utah is the second driest state in the nation with a population slated to double in the next 40 years. Do we really want to allocate this precious water to nuclear power for at least a half-century, instead of to homes, businesses and farms?
- It’s Costly. Nuclear remains one of the most expensive sources of electricity, with independent analysts estimating a per kilowatt-hour cost of at least 13 to 18 cents, much more than what Utah (7 cents) or the nation (10 cents) pays today. That hefty price tag is why no one has built a nuclear power plant in this country since 1977. Wall Street won’t even loan money to utilities for nuclear power, because of its skyrocketing costs. Proposals to build new reactors depend upon federal loan guarantees to get off the ground.
- It Poses Risks. Utah would need to grapple with the spent fuel rods that reactors produce, high-level nuclear waste stored on-site which remains dangerous for centuries. And then there is the possibility, even if remote, of a Fukushima-style accident. The impacts would be devastating: The reactor site is close to the world-renowned rafting destinations on the Green River, Desolation and Gray Canyons. Downriver, of course, are the jewels of America’s national park system, Canyonlands and the Grand Canyon. What if there were a release of radioactivity, even a minor one, into the Green River? Tilton has said that a Fukushima-style disaster could never happen, because earthquakes are unlikely. However, what the Japan nuclear tragedy should teach us is that any event which disrupts cooling water to reactors – such as severe storms, floods, fires, terror attack, equipment malfunction or human error – can quickly spiral out of control and have terrifying consequences.
- There are Better Alternatives. Given that our organization also has serious concerns about burning coal to produce electricity in Utah, it’s reasonable to ask: What’s your plan for keeping the lights on? In 2010, our organization designed a homegrown energy system for Utah. We laid out a blueprint for transforming our power supply by 2050. Our system combines Utah’s best wind, solar, and geothermal resources with proven storage technologies. Everyone knows that renewable energy is clean and safe, but our study proves that it can also be affordable and reliable. In addition, it uses much less water than nuclear power and burning fossil fuels – a critical issue in dry Utah.
The time is now to defeat Aaron Tilton’s bad idea. We need to lobby the state engineer to deny the project the water it needs, and encourage the state legislature to reject any and all bids to force Utah utility customers to buy this risky and costly power.
Utahns must make clear to our officials that it’s time to turn our back on costly and dangerous power sources like nuclear power and instead embrace a 21st Century energy economy.
Matt Pacenza is HEAL Utah’s policy director. He can be reached at email@example.com
Nuclear Power is a good fit for Utah.
By Aaron Tilton
The generation and use of electricity is one of the vital components of Utah’s economy and contributor to the quality of life of its citizens. Our future economic growth is dependent on reliable and affordable sources of electricity.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Utah is the third fastest growing state in the country, driving up demand for electricity. Additional pressure for new electric resources is materializing because of coal plant closures. As a result, many utilities are facing significant uncertainty over the source and cost of new electric generation and the need is clearly focusing on clean and reliable power.
While certainly needed, new non-emitting, alternatives – such as solar, wind and geothermal – cannot meet the projected needs for reliable base load power. Therein lies the value of nuclear power.
Nuclear power provides some of the most stable base load sources of power in the U.S. Furthermore, nuclear power generation costs have been at or below the national average of coal and natural gas fired power plants during the last decade. It is also one of the safest.
“Since commercial nuclear power plants began operating in the United States, there have been no physical injuries or fatalities from exposure to radiation from the plants among members of the U.S. public. Even the country’s worst nuclear power plant accident at Three Mile Island resulted in no identifiable health impacts.”
-U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (January 2009)
In fact, the U.S. nuclear industry has accumulated almost 3,400 reactor years of operation since the first plant started up in 1957 without serious injury or death to a single member of the public. The nuclear industry is one of the safest industries in the world.
Placing the Fukushima reactor accidents in the context of nuclear power safety in the United States, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission just published its first major report after the accidents (Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century) on July 13, 2011, with pertinent conclusions and recommendations to improve safety and especially address loss-of-power scenarios and multi-unit accidents.
This timely report brings factual information to the American public, and I quote from the Dedication concerning the Fukushima accident: “The outcome—no fatalities and the expectation of no significant radiological health effects- …”, and from the Executive Summary concerning the US nuclear power infrastructure: “The current regulatory approach, and more importantly, the resultant plant capabilities allow the Task Force to conclude that a sequence of events like the Fukushima accident is unlikely to occur in the United States and some appropriate mitigation measures have been implemented, reducing the likelihood of core damage and radiological releases. Therefore, continued operation and continued licensing activities do not pose an imminent risk to public health and safety.”
Utah is one of the primary areas that would benefit from new base load nuclear electrical generation. Because Utah has the closest service area to the proposed Blue Castle Project, it would not incur the cost of long distance transmission, and therefore, load serving electric utilities in the State would have a cost advantage keeping electricity very competitive for consumers.
Nuclear power uses approximately the same amount of water for cooling as coal fired power plants. The use of cooling water by power plants preserve the water rights of conservancy districts for future uses by proving beneficial use. The proposed Blue Castle nuclear power plant would increase the electricity generated in Utah by approximately 50%, adding about 3,000 megawatts of installed electrical capacity, using less than 1% of Utah’s current water diversion, and with a very favorable state-wide economic impact. The Blue Castle Project would directly employ about 1,000 new workers with an average annual salary of $65,000.
Nuclear power is also environmentally benign, and therefore, its operation has little impact on the environment. Nuclear power has essentially a zero emissions burden on a small total footprint.
Nuclear power plants comply with the requirements and expectations of the Clean Air Act of 1970, which set standards to improve the nation’s air quality. Because they generate heat from the fission process, they produce no gases or particulate emissions associated with burning fuel during operations.
Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, base load, clean electricity source that can be expanded widely to produce the large amounts of energy needed in the U.S. In 2007, U.S. nuclear power plants prevented the emission of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide-pollutants controlled under the Clean Air Act-by 1 million short tons and 3 million short tons, respectively. The amount of nitrogen oxide emissions that nuclear plants prevent annually is the equivalent of taking more than 51 million passenger cars off the road.
It is time for nuclear power in Utah.
Aaron Tilton is the President and CEO of Blue Castle Holdings, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org