Project moves along near Green River
The reality of a nuclear power plant in Green River is still years away, but each step taken by Blue Castle Holdings brings the project closer. Blue Castle Holdings recently hosted a tour of the proposed site and invited media as well as the Green River mayor Pat Brady. Green River is the closest town to the project lying four miles away from the site.
Since the announcement several years ago that Green River was being considered for a nuclear power plant there have been mixed reactions among the locals as well as environmental groups and the public in general. With the nuclear power disaster in Japan, sentiments have wavered over the safety of nuclear power. Nuclear proponents are quick to assure people that the likelihood of a tsunami in Green River is pretty much non-existent, other very real threats to safety do exist as Utah is known for earthquakes and flooding episodes.
The process to get to the point where construction could begin is filled with the licensing procedure. To date prelicensing requirements are being fulfilled. Probably the most important factor as to whether the project gets the green light or the red light depends on the point of diversion change for the water. Blue Castle Holdings already leases the water shares, but the question lies in whether the point of diversion can be changed to accommodate the water the power plant needs to operate. This question is in the hands of the Utah State water engineer. Blue Castle has answered the questions involved concerning the water as protests were filed against their request for a point of diversion change. The engineers answer is expected to come within the next month. Sources say if this water change is approved there is a 90 percent chance of the plant development proceeding.
Blue Castle feels they are close now to filing their licensing application.
They are progressing rapidly toward completing site characterization activities needed for the filing of a licensing application with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and for State and local permitting. Blue Castle has been conducting on-site and off-site investigations during the last six months to prepare an Early Site Permit application to the NRC. These investigations include: collecting meteorological data on-site, using a 60 meter collection tower, hydrological investigations employing multiple monitoring wells for groundwater characterization, and site response analysis using geotechnical core boring activities. Complementary off-site activities are focused on collection of terrestrial and aquatic ecology data for environmental stewardship purposes and demographic/socioeconomic data for characterization of the population and economic parameters important to the region.
The results to-date confirm the extensive work done during previous years to find and select the most suitable site for the placement of a two-unit nuclear power plant in Utah, and support the proposed application schedule discussed with the NRC. "We are very satisfied with the recent site results and the quality work of our licensing contractors. The data obtained provides important measurements that support the original site suitability for deploying a nuclear power station near Green River," noted Tom Retson, the Chief Operating Officer for Blue Castle Holdings Inc.
When operating, the Blue Castle Project nuclear plant would provide up to 50 percent additional electrical capacity in Utah, generating clean, reliable and economical electricity, with the predictability needed by the people of Utah and for its economic growth.
"I have witnessed significant and encouraging progress as well as strong evidence of good people following a comprehensive process. The possible 1,000 new jobs associated with the new project certainly improve the economic outlook of our community," concluded Mike McCandless, Emery County Economic Development Director.
Retson believes Blue Castle has done all the right things in regards to getting the water approved. They have responded to all the protests which were raised during the public hearing and the comment period. They are in possession of the water leases and are requesting the take out location for the water be changed. Retson said they are six years along now in the process since the idea began, "But these last six months things have been moving more quickly.
Rick Ortiz and Eddie Floyd are the site bosses and have been overseeing the work on site. They are core people to the project. Road improvements are underway at the site. Drilling rigs are on site and their work will be finished soon. All licensing must be done before any construction could begin at the site. A five year process for licensing is expected and that clock began ticking in January. We took water samples early in the process. This sampling and monitoring process will last from January of 2011 to April of 2013. They will submit their application to the NRC and then there will be hearings after that. The licensing procedure is lengthy. Site suitability is still being determined. No decisions will be made until all data has been collected and submitted.
The Green River location has looked good so far because of the availability of water, rail, and interstate nearby and transmission lines in the area and more transmission lines scheduled to be built in the near future. Current transmission lines aren't adequate now, but will be expanded. A pipeline will be built to bring the water from the Green River to the site. The rail will be used to bring heavy equipment to the site as well as using the interstate. At some point a railroad spur will be constructed to the site.
Retson showed the visitors to the site maps of the area and a drawing of the site as it will appear. He said new technologies are being developed all the time so the final plant design changes as new developments in technology are made. The Green River site is two 1,000 megawatt units. The design certification goes through a different review process.
Retson said the drilling is taking place now to learn the subsurface and understand the geological make-up of the area. Meteorological data is also being recorded including wind frequency, wind speed and direction, relative humidity, temperature readings and other data is being compiled. The soil samples are being stored on site and some are being sent for testing to a lab in Houston. The core is being sampled at a depth of one mile.
Water for the plant will be stored in a reservoir. After the water has been used it will be placed in evaporation ponds where it will evaporate, no water will be returned to the Green River. Retson explained how the Palo Verde nuclear facility uses waste water from Phoenix.
McCandless said nuclear power has looked at Green River several times in the past because of its prime location. Fifty items are factored into a site selection process. He also said any item, one fatal flaw can eliminate a site from consideration during the initial analysis. There is not a fatal flaw at the Green River site.
Retson explained the reliability of nuclear power saying it has 92 percent capacity; which means the plant operates at full capacity 92 percent of the time. This capacity is actual production of electricity. This is extremely high when compared to other sources such as wind which typically operates at only 17-20 percent efficiency. Retson said the capacity is extremely important as this is actual power delivered to the grid. He said one problem coal fired plants are having is regulating the gaps left in the grid by wind power because of the fluctuations in power produced. This wind chasing leads to the coal fired plants having to adapt to the up and down factors involved with wind power and this also applies to solar power as well because no power is produced at night. Retson pointed out many similarities between a nuclear power plant and a coal fired plant saying the only big difference is in how the water is heated. He likes the Emery County area because of the experienced workers in the area who he believes have the skill sets to work in nuclear power.
McCandless said nuclear fuel is cheaper to produce. With a coal plant the cost of the coal adds up to 70 percent of the expenses and with nuclear fuel the cost is 10 percent of the cost of operation. Retson believes nuclear power can co-exist nicely with the coal fired plants in the area. Utah is expanding demand for power at such a high rate that energy from all sources needs to be looked at and utilized. Retson said they want to share information about what is going on at the proposed nuclear power site and they still have a lot of work to do. "We are involved in a long process, but we are getting to the point where we can talk about it," said Retson.
Retson said after the test holes were completed at the site they have been abandoned according to protocol. They began sampling the end of June and finished this past week. There are 12 borings.
There is another side to the nuclear power plant idea as well. How prepared is Green River, the closest town, to handle the number of people that would be involved in the construction as well as the operation phase of the project. Green River mayor Pat Brady said Green River has recently completed projects involving infrastructure with new water lines and sewer lines. He said around town he has heard both negative and positive comments. Brady said, "I've heard from both sides, but the majority are in favor of the project. The economic benefits and the opportunities to keep our kids here is really attractive. Up until now, the kids have had to look for economic opportunities outside of Green River for jobs and education. This is a great opportunity to improve our economics and establish a new tax base. Our planning and zoning commission is looking for places Green River can grow. We are waiting to see if the water is approved and then we'll know for sure. There have been three or four FEMA trainings here in Green River. We will look at housing for workers and permanent employees. We hope with the additional workers coming in there will be other support businesses move in. We hope to revitalize our Main Street."
Another player in the game is Reed Searle who was the general manager for the Intermountain Power Project in Delta and he went through the process there and knows what's involved when there is an influx of people into an area. He will be involved in public meetings. Man camps will be constructed. It will be a team effort. He will help to make sure the homework is done before the workers arrive so Green River is prepared.
Brady will be involved in meetings to help plan the preliminary work which will need to take place. The earliest construction would begin would be 2016 so Brady feels Green River is well positioned to act when the time comes. During the building phase of the project approximately 4,000 people could be involved and in the operation phase the plant would employ between 800-1,000 workers.
Brady said he looks forward to new people coming to see what Green River has to offer. New school teachers would have to be hired, possibly even a new school or school expansion for the school children who may move in. It is estimated if the project does go through the revenue to the Emery School District would likely double. These increased revenues would allow the school district to properly handle an influx of students into the district.
McCandless said as well as the school district benefitting, other tax entities in the county would also see an increase in revenues.
Retson said they are looking ahead to the future should the plant be built, but everything must be done in the right order. Every site and community is unique. Blue Castle feels it has the right people working on this project and they bring experience to the table. Every project has its challenges, but the team members feel they are up to coping with conflicts as they move along.
Retson said, "We really like the base of people here in the area that are familiar with power generation. The processes of nuclear are almost identical to the coal fired power plants. The only difference is in how you boil the water, it's almost an identical process. With coal you burn coal to heat the water and with nuclear power you split an atom; both processes create heat. If you know the valves on a coal fired plant, you will know the valves on a nuclear plant. That's why we like Emery County. It pays to diversify, in regards to energy; our country is at risk because of what happens in foreign countries. We offer greater stability in a power source that's less prone to outside forces. Coal reserves offer stability and very little risk also. We will be using coal far into the future to supply the energy needs of this country."
As with every project the nuclear power plant has generated some opposition as well. Matt Paqcenza, policy director from Heal Utah said their organization has a whole host of reasons why the project should never be completed. He feels the greatest issue is the water. "Utah is the second driest state in the nation and the population is expected to double in the next 40 years.
McCandless feels the opposition to the water needs to be put in perspective. The 53,000 acre feet used in a year by the plant is less water than Joe's Valley holds. More than 55,000 acre feet of water were flowing past Green River every day this summer during high water. More water overflowed Joe's Valley, Millsite, and Electric Lake this year, than the power plant will use.
The plant would use a large volume of water for the next 40-60 years as water becomes more precious and scarce. Money is another issue. Nuclear power is a costly way to produce power. There are better alternatives including natural gas, wind and solar. There is the risk and safety issue. The risk is relatively low, but if something happened there are concerns. Even something small could affect the river and what about the agriculture, who would buy the produce? We realize the economic impacts for the area would be great. But we feel there are other ways to generate power and create jobs."
Several environmental groups banded together to send a letter to Mr. Jones who is the state water engineer deciding whether the change of the point of diversion will be accepted or not. These organizations said that awarding that much water, 53,600 acre feet seems a poor choice for the already over subscribed Colorado River system. They were also concerned about the water and surrounding areas in the event of an accident. "We also recognize that the likelihood of an accident for the Green River reactors is small. However, we urge you to carefully consider that possibility, given the critical location of the proposed reactors upstream from not just the water supply for millions of Southwestern residents, but for a host of fragile ecosystems, flora and fauna," groups signing this letter included: Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Don't Waste Arizona, Environment Arizona, Environment California, Environment Nevada, Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers, Sierra Club, Uranium Watch and Safe Energy Analyst.