Today's Carbon High School freshmen will be college graduates by the time the nuclear power plant at Green River begins churning out electricity. And that's if the long, detailed permitting process moves along without a hitch.
Emergency services planners and other local government officials from Carbon and Emery counties got a glimpse of what's involved - and their role in the process - Wednesday morning at a briefing by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The message was not all that complicated: until every city, county and Native American reservation within a 50-mile radius of the plant has a viable emergency response plan for a nuclear accident, it's no-go.
"If there are holes (in the plan) at the state or local level, the licensee can't start up," stated Dan Feighert, manager of the FEMA Region VIII Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program.
What that means for local police, hospitals, clinics and fire departments is at least a year, maybe two, of planning for the worst. Feighert explained that before FEMA signs off on anything, local agencies must have it clearly stated, in writing, that everybody knows who will be responsible for what actions in case of emergency. That includes interlocal memoranda of understanding or letters of agreement on such things as ambulance and fire protection.
Feighert told the audience that there are two key elements in securing an operating license for the plant. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is responsible for reviewing and approving everything inside the plant fence, while FEMA is responsible for everything from the fence to 50 miles out. Both agencies have to be convinced before anything can happen.
From the looks of the FEMA radiological manual, the agency will take a lot of convincing. There are no fewer than 109 detailed evaluation criteria that agency has to examine in each state and local plan.
Green River and part of Grand County will have the most stringent requirements, because they are within a ten-mile radius of the plant. That is where people could be exposed to lethal gamma radiation through their skin or lungs as a plume of escaped gas passes over.
Out to 50 miles, which includes Carbon County and the west side of Emery, there's a potential of fallout radiation entering the water or food supply.
The odds of a major disaster are extremely low, Feighert said. There has not been an accident in the United States since the Three-Mile Island incident 31 years ago. TMI was contained, meaning that radiation did not escape the plant site at dangerous levels. The Chernobyl accident was another story. That reactor was in a metal shed, not a tightly-sealed containment building as US and Western European standards require, he added.
The Green River facility is being spearheaded by Blue Castle Holdings, a Salt Lake-based company that is organizing a consortium of utilities and investors to share in construction and operating costs.
The power plant site is about five miles west-northwest of Green River. Final approval by all federal, state and local agencies would give the go-ahead for a generating facility that would match or exceed the output of all the coal-fired power plants now operating in that county. Plans call for 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts of capacity at the site. That's enough juice to serve 3- to 4 million homes.
The three units at PacifiCorp's Hunter Plant and both units at the Huntington plant are about 400 megawatts each.
Blue Castle Holdings has reported that it has already secured water rights for the plant. The 53,000 acre-feet of water will be leased for up to 70 years from water users who might otherwise have lost their rights through non-use. At the end of the project life, the water will revert back to the owners. Blue Castle is also negotiating with utilities to share in the investment and output of the $12- to $15 billion facility. The utilities could obtain the option to buy into 4 to 7 percent of the plant once the permitting process is done.
At the end of June, BCH announced an arrangement of $30 million in private capital from LeadDog Capital L.P., a New York-based group of investors, for up to three years in early financing of the project.
During its last session, the Utah Legislature included nuclear power in the list of energy development projects eligible for state tax credits. Emery has already zoned the area for industrial development as part of an agreement with the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.
All the emergency planning that lies ahead - and the purchase of any equipment necessary to fulfill the plans - is the responsibility of the utility seeking the permit, Feighert told the group. For example, if Castleview Hospital is designated to handle radiological emergencies, the utility will have to assure that the hospital gets the necessary equipment and training to handle its mission.
There's also the prospect of an impact on the Green River area - and the 50 mile radius around it - that is far more certain than a radiation leak: jobs. Construction could involve 800 to 1,500 workers for years. Operation would require 400 to 500 highly skilled workers.