The first commercial nuclear power plant in the United States began operation in 1958. Today, there are 65 nuclear power plants operating in the United States—all constructed either in or prior to 1974. There have been no new plants constructed in the US since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, although there are several additions to existing plants currently underway. Nuclear power provides approximately 20% of all electrical power in the US.
The Sierra Club does not support nuclear power for a number of reasons:
- Although accidents involving plants are few, the results are often deadly.
- Fifty-five years after the creation of the first plant, the industry and government regulators have still not been able to create a safe, long-term solution for the storage of high-level nuclear waste, which lasts thousands of years.
- They are dangerous places to work. There are 23 plants in the US that utilize the same containment system as Fukushima.
- They are expensive. At a minimum of $10 billion and seven years to build, plants require their entire life span in order to pay back investors.
- The Price-Anderson law passed in 1957 eliminates the requirement for nuclear plants to carry expense liability insurance. Thus, the costs associated with any catastrophic event at a nuclear plant would be born by US taxpayers.
- They are significant security risks as is the transport of spent fuel to an off-site storage site.
- Irradiated fuel cells must be placed in a cooling pond containing high density boron and cooled for 5 years before it can be removed and placed in dry casks for storage. These will remain on-site until a suitable long-term storage site can be developed.
- They require huge amounts of water to safely operate. Any interruption in the supply of water to the reactors could result in a catastrophic accident.
The Proposed Blue Castle Nuclear Power Plant, Green River, Utah
Despite all of the reasons not to build a nuclear power plant listed above, development-minded Utah leadership and legislators have strongly supported creation of a 3,000 megawatt nuclear power plant near the town of Green River. Driven by a former legislator with no experience in nuclear power, the Utah legislature identified nuclear as a source of renewable energy in order for the plant to qualify for the same tax breaks as solar and wind.
As if the idea of building a nuclear power plant in the middle of the Utah desert isn’t bad enough, the project requires 56,400 acre feet of water per year to operate—much of which will be lost to evaporation in a backup storage reservoir. Each acre foot of water equals 325,829 gallons per year, or, in the case of the Blue Castle plant, 56,400 times 325,829 gallons of water from a water source that Utah’s own governor recently admitted is already over allocated. No matter as state legislator Mike Noel, (R), District 73 who is also the Kane County Water Commissioner, worked to secure a transfer of water rights from Kane and San Juan Counties to support operation of the plant. As a bonus, following completion of the plant, Kane County would receive approximately $1M per year for use of their water rights while San Juan County would receive $800,000.
If for any reason an accident or act of terrorism were to occur at the plant, and as a result, pollute the Green and Colorado Rivers, a disaster of historic proportions could result as these rivers represent the water source for more than 30 million people living downstream who depend on these rivers for their very existence.
It’s worth mentioning that downstream from Green River, Utah legislators are lobbying for creation of a pipeline to feed development in St. George that if built, would draw another 86,000 acre feet of water from the Colorado River system.
These projects come at a time when Lake Powell is at 47% of normal and climate change predictors all forecast a much drier and warmer Utah in the future. Clearly, both of these projects are reflective of a state leadership that is driven by greed rather than common sense and planning for future generations.