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Front Page » May 24, 2011 » Carbon County News » Nuclear project may employ 4,000 at peak: Blue Castle exe...
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Nuclear project may employ 4,000 at peak: Blue Castle executives say Emery plant could hire up to 1,000 permanently

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Sun Advocate associate editor

If all goes according to schedule, the Blue Castle Holdings nuclear power plant near Green River will need as many as 4,000 construction workers by 2017.

That will be when the process of building the two-unit, 3,000 megawatt project reaches its peak.

When construction is done in the early 2020s, the plant will employ between 825 and 1,000 people to operate and maintain it.

That was the word from Blue Castle executives, who conducted public briefings on the USU Eastern Price campus Thursday and Friday.

CEO Aaron Tilton told Kiwanis Club members and guests Thursday that his company will be working with local officials across the region to help communities adjust to the influx of workers during construction and after.

While it's apparent that Green River City will grow, he said, it is also likely that workers will choose to live places such as Price or Moab.

Thomas Retson, chief operating officer and a veteran of the nuclear power industry, explained that only about 25 percent of the permanent jobs will require specialized nuclear training. The majority of workers will be employed in the trades and crafts necessary for running a coal-fired plant. Tilton said the number of workers already employed at power plants in this area was one of the factors in site selection.

That, and the presence of USU Eastern in the region, added Reed Searle, senior vice president for business development, who noted that it would be a "beautiful opportunity" for the college to become involved because training will start two years before operations begin.

The plant will increase Utah's electric generation by 50 percent by 2022.

In comparison, the five PacifiCorp coal-fired units in Emery County now generate roughly 2,500 megawatts of power.

Tilton explained that as Blue Castle examined all of the options for power generation, the economic and environmental situation indicated that there are slim odds for new coal plant generation.

Nuclear power appears to be the most economical route and for one major reason: unlike a coal plant, where trucks, trains and conveyor must deliver about a million tons of coal per year per generating unit, fuel for a nuclear plant will require one truckload every two years.

The spent fuel can be recycled. At the end of the plant's 60-year life span, the low level radioactive material left over could be stored on 1.5 acres.

Tilton explained that the site selection process concluded that the Green River area would be best because of low seismic risk, adequate water, nearness to I-70 and a railroad line and proximity to existing and planned high-voltage transmission lines.

The company will be taking core samples over the summer to complete the seismic study.

Water concerns

In response to a question about the impact on demand for Green River water, Tilton answered that the plant will use no more water than a conventional coal plant. In fact, the state engineer has already approved the allocation for power generation for coal-fire plants that were never built.

The water represents supplies already allocated to Utah users that are currently unused.

At peak demand in the driest years, the plant's demand for water would lower the level of the Green River by one inch, and in severe drought, the nuclear units could be shut down.

Water would be required only to keep basic functions such as keeping spent fuel cooled in that situation.

Safety design

Speaking of reactor and fuel cooling, former Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Nils Diaz, who is now Blue Castle's chief strategic officer, reassured the audience that state-of-the-art design today differs from that of the Fukushima complex in Japan.

That was a 40 year old plant built on a 50 year old design. However, Diaz noted, the buildings and reactors still survived a catastrophic earthquate and subsequent tsunami. "Look at the pictures and you'll see they are the only buildings left standing," he stated.What killed the Fukushima plant was flooding that knocked out the diesel generators that were supposed to power the pumps for cooling water in the reactor cores and spent fuel.

Diaz, who was the NRC chairman after 9-11, said that engineers have learned lessons from that tragedy. Where once they considered natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes in design, they now have to consider what would happen to a plant if it were hit by a 767 jet or some other terrorist attack.

The Green River plant will not have to worry about loss of power to cooling water pumps because the plant will probably not use circulating pumps at all. Water flow will depend on simple gravity for normal operation.

Water still would be pumped into overhead tanks, which have a three-day capacity. Redundant equipment on-site and in Green River could be used if those pumps fail.

Other structures, such as containers to hold radioactive gas in case of emergency, will be far stronger than those a Fukushima.

Community planning

Searle, who had years of experience at the Intermountain Power Agency, said that he has learned what adequate planning in advance of an economic boom can do.

Prior to construction of Intermountain Power Project near Delta, IPA worked with local governments to plan for the influx of workings.

With planning and zoning in place beforehand, developers knew what was expected and allowed, he stated.

And while the nuclear plant will contribute to Utah's power supply, it will probably not eliminate coal from the energy mix, Searle declared.

The reason is that utilities love diversity in their energy sources. A good mix assures that any factor interrupting one source will not affect the others.

As a result of nuclear development, those coal-fired plants now in servicecould become more valuable to their owners.

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