Group drops water battle, still fighting nuclear plant plan

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Environmentalists who've spent almost a decade fighting a plan to build Utah's first nuclear power plant said Wednesday that they're dropping a legal battle against the eastern Utah project but are still fighting the facility.

The groups HEAL Utah, Uranium Watch and Living Rivers said they would not contest a Utah Court of Appeals ruling last month allowing the facility to pull water from the Green River to cool nuclear reactors once it's built.

HEAL Utah executive director Matt Pacenza said that by dropping the battle over water rights, the company that wants to build the plant, Blue Castle Holdings, will be forced to start paying hundreds of thousands of dollars on those water rights to local water districts.

"We frankly do not believe they have those resources," Pacenza said. He said the project has not attracted significant investments and no Utah utility companies have stepped up to say they're interested in nuclear power.

"It's a project that we're confident is going nowhere," he said.

David C. Wright, an attorney for Blue Castle Holdings, said he doesn't know specifics about the company's finances but he's confident they'll make the payments. Wright said he's glad to hear the environmental groups won't fight the ruling, but he's confident the state Supreme Court would have ruled in Blue Castle's favor if the case continued.

The 3,000-megawatt plant would occupy a proposed industrial park about five miles from the small city of Green River, about 40 miles upstream from Moab and two national parks, and about 180 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.

Critics argue the nuclear plant would harm endangered fish, swallow a major portion of limited water on the dry Colorado Plateau and hamper outdoor recreation in the area. Green River, a city of about 1,000 people, is known for its melon growing and is a waypoint for hikers venturing out to nearby geologic features and canyons and rafters who are braving the rapids of the Green River and Colorado River.

Blue Castle said the fast-growing state will need an additional power source and the plant would be in an area where about 360,000 acre feet of water are unused each year. The project would pull 53,000 acre-feet of water a year from the river.

Wright said the project can move forward now that it's not being bogged down with a court fight.

The proposal is a year or two away from getting a site permit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Wright said.

After that, Blue Castle would need an operational permit from the commission. If approved, construction would take five to seven years, according to Blue Castle, which is headed by former state Rep. Aaron Tilton.

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