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Trial on nuke plant water rights begins

The water rights case has attracted statewide attention, as shown by the television remote vans in the courthouse parking lot Monday.

Sun Advocate associate editor

Attorneys and upstate news media converged on Seventh District Court in Price Monday for the beginning of a trial that could determine the fate of a multibillion-dollar nuclear power plant near Green River.

In dispute is 29,600 acre feet of river water that would be diverted from the Kane County Water Conservancy District to Blue Castle Holdings, the backer of the proposed power plant.

Opponents of the transfer are asking Judge George Harmond to review the decision of the State Engineer that allows the change in points of diversion, place of use and nature of use of the water.

Those opponents include several environmental groups, along with a river-running business and agricultural users.

The petition for review includes Blue Castle, the conservancy district and State Engineer Kent L. Jones as defendants.

The petitioners contend in a lengthy lawsuit filed March 27, 2012, that the engineer did not do his job to assure that the nuclear plant's water consumption would not harm environmental or human interests. They allege that the engineer instead deferred to federal agencies overseeing the power plant permitting.

Blue Castle, Kane County and the State Engineer have filed answers with the court denying the allegations.The petitioners are asking the court to overturn the State Engineer's decision based on their contention that:

The State has not demonstrated the project can avoid interference with existing water rights;

That Blue Castle has not shown that its proposed plan is physically and economically feasible; and

That Blue Castle hasn't show an ability to finance the project.

During visits to Carbon County two years ago, Blue Castle executives had received questions from citizens about the water demand at the plant and the impact on the Green River.

They answered that the plant would have no more demand than a conventional coal-fired power plant of the same generating capacity. They added that the water in question had already been allocated for power generation use.

In practical terms, plant usage would cause the level of the river to drop about an inch, they said. During times of extreme drought the nuclear generators could be shut off, with water needed only for reactor cooling and general plant uses.

Blue Castle expects its construction workforce to employ up to 4,000 workers. Once the plant is built, it would hire between 825 and 1,000 people.

The majority of those jobs would not require nuclear engineering degrees. The skills would be the same ones required for conventional power generation maintenance.

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