These are the effects of his sponsorship of Senate Joint Resolution 16 (now 71), which endorses nuclear energy in Utah. To understand why a vote for nuclear energy is a vote for sending Utah water and Utah dollars to California, readers should know a bit about the water needs of nuclear power plants.
According to the U.S. Electric Power Research Institute, a nuclear reactor consumes between 3.4 and 6.3 million gallons of water per megawatt per year depending on the type of cooling system used. This is not water borrowed (“used”) and then returned to its source, but water lost (“consumed”) through the reactor’s cooling system. The power plant proposed for Green River will involve two to four 1,500 MW reactors. Depending on the number of reactors and type of cooling system, the Green River plant will permanently remove from 28,492 to 105,202 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River system every year. This is water that will not be available to Grand County or any other part of Utah. By way of comparison, the city of Moab annually consumes just under 1,900 acre-feet for all residential and agricultural purposes.
And where will the power from Green River go? Predominantly to California, the region’s biggest consumer. Utah will not need this much electricity, nor is Utah likely to buy nuclear-generated power in any event, because it will be more expensive than fossil-fuel-based power or even power supplied by truly clean sources such as the Raser geothermal plant now operating near Milford.
So, to power California, Utah will give up its most precious natural resource, and Utah will get high-level nuclear waste in the bargain.
What does this loss of water mean for Grand County? According to Utah’s Division of Water Resources, by 2020, the approximate time when the Green River plant would go online, Utah will have only 200,000 acre feet of unallocated Colorado River water left. If that number is correct, this one facility will consume as much as 52 percent of all available Colorado water, putting the growth and well-being of Grand County and the rest of rural eastern Utah at risk.
But the state’s 200,000 acre-feet estimate assumes that the Colorado will continue to provide an average of 15 million acre-feet per year. This seems unlikely under current climate change scenarios. According to the vast majority of climate scientists, the Southwest is heading into a period in which permanent drought will prevail. Utah experienced such drought between 1999 and 2005. At its worst, this drought reduced Colorado flow to just 3.8 million acre-feet per year.
In the best of times, the proposition that we would take from our share of the Colorado enough water to supply 15 to 50 Moabs and effectively give this to California would be unacceptable. In a time of extended drought, it’s an absurdity.
Now, Sen. Hinkins will tell us that nuclear reactors in Green River mean jobs. That’s true, but only if the reactors are able to operate. Under the “Law of the River,” downstream users in Las Vegas, 90 percent of whose water comes from the river, Phoenix, 60 percent of whose water comes from the river, and Los Angeles, 53 percent of whose water comes from the river, take priority over upstream users such as Utah. In the event of extended drought, they not Aaron Tilton and David Hinkins, will have the last word on water. What water we Utahns have left will be a resource too precious to waste on cooling nuclear reactors.
Indeed, water to power thirsty reactors may simply not exist. In that case, what Sen. Hinkins will have given us is the world’s largest concrete white elephant. What Sen. Hinkins will have deprived us of is jobs in clean, high-growth industries such as solar, wind, and geothermal energy. This is where smart money is headed.
Last year, Warren Buffet, as shrewd an investor as Wall Street has ever seen, canceled plans to build a nuclear reactor in Idaho because it simply wouldn’t pay. Buffet is not alone. Billionaire investor George Soros has called renewable energy the “motor” of the new world economy. Nuclear energy is not renewable. It’s a motor to nowhere.
These money-making geniuses notwithstanding, Sen. Hinkins has this proposition for Utah: California gets a new trillion-dollar high-tech energy industry powered by Utah water, we get nuclear waste. Not since Attila the Hun has there been such a one-sided proposition for the loser.
Ed Firmage, Jr., environmental writer and photographer (www.edwinfirmage.com), is a prominent member of the Utah sustainability movement.