The environmentalist siege of Blue Castle has merit on several grounds.
First, if climate change causes a prolonged drought in the Colorado River basin, as some scientists predict, the proposed nuclear plant on the Green River could be left without enough water to operate.
Second, in such a drought the plant's needs could adversely impact other water rights.
Third, the project's finances appear to be shaky, and under Utah law, the sponsors must show they have the financial means to complete the project.
Our most serious concern continues to be the first. When State Engineer Kent L. Jones approved the permanent change order to divert 53,600 acre-feet of water from the Green River to the project, he acknowledged that the reactors could be placed on short rations in the event of extreme drought. He appeared to conclude, however, that such a scenario is unlikely.
But it would not be prudent to spend $16 billion on an electric-generating plant powered by nuclear reactors that could be shorted essential water for cooling. Under Utah water law, holders of senior water rights are entitled to take their water from the stream before those with junior rights, and there are many rights senior to those for the nuclear plant. But in a water shortage, would the state really be able to slow the flow to a plant generating 3,000 megawatts of power? We doubt it. The political and economic pressure against such a move would be enormous, and that would necessarily impair others' water rights.
Simply put, a nuclear plant in the arid climes of southern Utah is not a good idea.
By comparison, the financial problem associated with the plant is less important. After the state engineer granted the change order early this year, the project dropped a $30 million equity financing deal with LeadDog Capital after that hedge fund was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of running a scam. It is possible, of course, that Blue Castle could arrange financing elsewhere, but the problem was not known when the change order was granted. It is estimated that it will take $100 million for Blue Castle to pay for just the permitting process with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Under these circumstances, it is a long shot that Blue Castle will ever be able to put to beneficial use the water it has contracted to lease from two southern Utah water conservancy districts. This project might make sense somewhere else, but not in a parched industrial park in southern Utah.