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A firm seeking to bring nuclear power to Utah has reached an agreement with Westinghouse Electric Co. to design and build a 1,500-megawatt plant in Emery County.

Blue Castle Holdings announced Wednesday it has signed a memorandum of understanding that commits the company to Westinghouse's AP1000, a pressurized water reactor the company is constructing at four other sites around the world, including two U.S. plant expansions. This model is known for its "passive" safety systems, designed to shut down the plant in the event of a mishap.

The two-unit generating station would stand on Utah state trust land outside the town of Green River.

The project, spearheaded by former Utah Rep. Aaron Tilton, has a long way to go before it spins kilowatts into the grid, but Tilton characterized the agreement as an important step to move the project forward.

The two companies will work as partners on activities associated with the proposed plant, including marketing, nuclear safety licensing, permit acquisition, design, construction, start-up, testing, operation and maintenance, according to a news release. The project is expected to employ 2,500 people during construction and 1,000 during the 60-year life of the plant.

While such a power plant would emit no carbon or other pollutants associated with fossil-fuel combustion, several Utah environmental groups oppose Blue Castle, citing the potential for catastrophic accidents, uncertainties about waste disposal, and the heavy use of water to cool its reactors.

Two years ago, the state engineer agreed to let Kane and San Juan counties lease 53,000 acre-feet of water a year to operate the reactor. That's an amount capable of serving a city of up 200,000 homes, but it's hardly a dent in the Green River's flow, state lawyers argued last year.

Led by HEAL Utah, environmentalists sued and lost in state court to block the water transfer. That ruling is now under appeal.

Tribal representatives from communities along the Colorado River gathered Monday in Moab to discuss their concerns about the upstream location of a nuclear facility. A discharge of radiation could harm their key water source.

"Taking care of this river is very important to us," said Amanda Barrera, Colorado River Indian Tribes council representative, according to the Moab Sun News. "We hold seniority rights to it. We are here to educate ourselves and take information back to our people."

Blue Castle, a Utah-based company, so far has invested $17 million. It intends to sell the nuclear project to a larger company to build and operate once it gets the required permits, according to court testimony last year. Company officials expect the plant to produce power by around 2024, replacing output from Utah's coal-fired stations that face retirement in the coming decades.