High Desert Hoofbeats
Powerful decisions...
by Sena Taylor Hauer
Dec 12, 2013 | 522 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This extremely frigid early-onset winter is making me think it might not be such a bad idea for a nuclear power plant to be developed near Green River.

All jesting aside, a judge’s decision to grant water rights to the proposed nuclear facility is causing me to give more thought to the impacts and benefits the plant could cause.

News stories about proposed energy projects in the Moab area appear with such regularity that I generally tune them out until the substance of the projects grows from vitriol at public meetings to actual approvals.

Last week’s paper announced progress on the Green River proposal, while a different story spoke of a dead-ended energy idea in Long Canyon. Moab’s roots run deep in natural resource development, but the public’s robust love of our undeveloped desert and federally managed lands creates an important counterweight in how the lands should he used. This is a healthy tension in the debate over development and preservation. A continual question is whether the beauty on top is worth more than the beauty below the surface, and whether overuse and development of either is harmful to the environment and its inhabitants.

I don’t know much about nuclear energy development. As a person who worries about the day when our traditional types of energy may run out, I am encouraged by the use of alternative sources such as solar and wind. I have long harbored hopes that nuclear energy could be part of the solution to our long-term energy needs on this planet, knowing fully well that the risks are great. From the Three Mile Island emergency in the ‘70s to Chernobyl and then Japan’s tsunamis in more recent years, it is clear that nuclear energy production has to be handled with kid gloves. But perhaps some day it can be a safe source of clean energy, and by some miracle we can figure out what to do with the radioactive waste.

The Green River twin reactor project has a long and questionable way to go before becoming a reality. The recent court decision regarding river water came nearly two years after several environmental groups banded together to sue the energy company and the state engineer for alleged unreasonable allocation of more than 1.7 billion gallons of water annually to serve the plant. Blue Castle Holdings, the Provo-based company that has proposed the nuclear facility, will likely need several more years to organize up to $20 million to finance construction.

With the water quarrel out of the way, economic questions may be the main driving factor as to whether the project, which could provide up to 3,000 megawatts of power, is physically or economically feasible. Opponents argue that it would cause undue impacts on the natural stream environment of the Green River, and that it would harm outdoor recreation and the public’s welfare. But the recent court decision seems to have left those issues with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, should the project proceed.

The judge’s decision will certainly cause opponents to redouble their efforts to fight the Green River plant. On their side will be the challenging economic straits that for now have doomed ideas for energy-producing reservoirs in Long Canyon. That proposal, for a pumped storage hydropower plant that might have generated 800 megawatts, has been withdrawn due to global jitters surrounding financial investment in renewable energy. The Green River proposal will be looking for investors in that same fickle environment, while also trying to convince the public and their partners’ pocketbooks that nuclear energy is a safe bet.

Our unseasonably cold weather is not likely to influence investors or environmentalists one way or the other. So, for now, I won’t bet on whether the nuclear plant will become more than just a dream to some, or a nightmare to others.

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