Nukes in Utah- Good for Utah or a Bad Idea?

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?

Bad Idea

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


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

11 Responses to “Nukes in Utah- Good for Utah or a Bad Idea?”

  1. Nuclear energy is not environmentaly benign. It is extremly toxic and we do not have even a long range plan to care for the current spent fuel, never mind the addition of another plant.
    I consider the risks of nuclear energy too great. We do not have a plan to deal with a clean up if there is an incident where the radiation is released into the environment. The amount of water used to cool the reactors is not a good plan in a desert. Our water is precious and we should not even be thinking of doing anything that would endanger it. We will be impacted economically becouse we do not have an effective answer to our power needs. This is ok, we need to learn to live within our means.

  2. I thought the side by side format was good, but not pointing out that Aaron Tilton has a financial stake in the issue is poor planning. His financial investment, and legislative connections are important when looking at this very serious issue.

  3. Tilton does a disservice to intelligent people by cherry-picking the NRC’s post-Fukushima report. The jury is certainly out on the long term health effects of that partial meltdown, as noted recently in Scientific American. Further, the question is not whether we should use precious and dwindling water supplies for nuclear power or coal-fired plants. There are other alternatives, if he would just chose to look at them closely, rather than poo-poo them from afar.

  4. It’s interesting that Mr. Tilton uses this quote from the NRC “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)
    My father died from a brain tumor that resulted from his time working not at a nuclear power plant, but at a gaseous diffusion plant that refined nuclear fuel for, among other ventures, nuclear power plants. The NRC was taken to task and many families were financially compensated. There was no “accident” it was just the nature of the beast. His exposure was in the mid 1950’s. His death was in 1999. The health effects can be far reaching and insidious. I was an infant at the time Dad worked at the plant. Between my Mother and Father and I, we have had 4 different kinds of cancer. All caused by nuclear? Who knows. Just as in the early days at Los Alamos. We’re still tickling the tail of the dragon; playing with technologies we don’t fully understand.
    It’s not just the “accidents” we should fear.

  5. Not revealing that Mr. Tilton has a major financial stake in this project is disingenuous at best and deceitful and dishonest at worst. He stands to make millions from this scheme, and has been making shady deals in the Utah legislature with equally shady characters to advance it for years. I’m surprised the Utah Outdoors would present this as a simple side-by-side “he said, she said.” It’s much more than that and you owe your readers an apology.

  6. After reading the article on Nuclear energy production near Green River, UT, I noticed a few bits of information that Mr. Pacenza did not mention in his rebuttle on Nuclear Energy. I would like to mention them here since the type of information he presented was both innacurate and false!

    1. Mr. Pacenza said the Nuclear Reactors use too much water. In reality, Nuclear reactors use less water than Natural Gas Power plants and even the same amount of water as Solar power plants. Mr. Pacenza also did not mention that Nuclear reactor producers GE and Honeywell have made great strides with effeciency and according to the latest reactors that both company’s have produced and exported, they use 7.5% less water.
    The claim that Nuclear reactors use way too much water is incorrect since they use less water than Coal and Natural Gas power plants of same or simlar energy output. Since the New power source proposed at Green River would be replacing fossil fuel derived power plants, the net result would be a reduction in water consumption, not an increase.

    2. Mr. Pacenza made the bold comment that the cost for nuclear energy was more expensive than coal. I would like to know what source of information Mr. Pacenza was looking at to come to that figure since the Dept of Energy in a 2009 report put the cost per kilowatt/hour for nuclear energy at just 4 cents. 13 to 18 cents is a bit of a bloated number. As to the costs associated with building nuclear power plants. The reason why this country has not built a new power plant is not due to cost but due to regulations. Private equity firms in the nation estimate that there is as much as 75 billion dollars ready and waiting to be invested in new nuclear power plants if one were to actually be built. The notion that “Wall Street” doesn’t want to invest in Nuclear energy but is willing to invest in Solar, wind and geothermal sources when those very power sources are ranked as the most expensive sources and least profitable to manage is beyond me.

    3. The last part of the comments by Mr. Pacenza were probably the most hypocritical of the entire article. To make personal attacks on Mr. Tilton’s past as a Businessman and as a Political representative are personal in nature and have nothing to do with the article. Mr. Pacenza also failed to mention that both he and his group HEAL Utah stand to financially benefit from a denaial of the proposed Nuclear power plant. HEAL Utah recieves financial contributions from individuals and companies associated with the Solar, Wind and Geothermal energy industries. It should also be made known that contributions made to HEAL Utah came from taxpayers. Government grants to groups such as HEAL Utah is how this group and many others like it can stay afloat.
    If Mr. Pacenza is going to personally attack Mr. Tilton for creating jobs and looking to better Utah’s economy and energy portfolio, than Mr. Pacenza should at least make known that he and his group also stand to benefit from the failure to build this proposed nuclear power plant.

  7. I live in Green River during the summer months guiding for Holiday River Expeditions and it would be a true tragedy to see a nuclear plant be built in Green River, but anywhere would be a shame as well. With Southern Utah being such an ideal spot for solar farms or wind farms it does not make sense to go in the direction of nuclear. Really? Nuclear? Why is nuclear even an option these days? Why do that when we have options to build our future energy sources from something sustainable, that would obviously have a payback period but after would pay for itself. It’s a no-brainer. The desert should not be used for stashing uranium tailings or nuclear. And don’t let Nevada put in a pipeline for god’s sake. Get with the program Utah.

  8. Erik
    Our data on power and water use comes from a paper called “U.S. Water Consumption for Power Production – The Next Half Century” from The Electric Power Research Institute, a trade group for utilities. A group that supports nuclear power – and yet, their data showed that nuclear power uses more water than other sources.

    Nuclear power does cost more than other forms of power generation. We get our data from independent Wall Street analysts like Moody’s and Standard & Poors and from peer-reviewed academic journals like Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The 4 cents figure you quote is so low it must only include the cost of operating a nuclear power plant, without the massive construction and financing costs that plague reactors.

    The fact that big banks won’t loan money for nuclear power due to its high cost is hardly an opinion. We haven’t had a brand new nuclear plant built in this country since 1977 and the reason is simple: It costs too much.

    Let’s just correct the record one at a time: We don’t get a penny in government grants. HEAL Utah is funded, like many small nonprofit organizations, by contributions from individual donors – nearly all Utahns, who share our values – and from local and national foundations. As far as we know, none of those are directly affiliated with renewable energy companies.

    I make thirty-something-thousand a year working for a small, mission-driven nonprofit. Feel free to question our facts and idea but it’s a downright wrong to attribute our motives to greed.

  9. As a business owner in St George, something that will bring people and jobs to the state is always a good idea, but so we really know the cost of it. there are two sides to this and i am not sure i can have a full opinion on this because both sides have a good argument.

  10. Bad idea man! The way the world is turning, we need to look into more green and eco friendly solutions for energy!

  11. I agree with Collin, as a business owner myself it is nice to have new businesses join us in the area. It would just depend on if that is the best option for everyone in the surrounding area’s here in St.George. We as a company strive to do the best for our people as I know the City of St. George does as well.

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