Barbara Galler

On Jan. 20, Utah State Engineer Kent Jones issued his decision to award Blue Castle Holdings rights to Green River water for a proposed nuclear plant. This was Utah’s only opportunity to have a say in the matter, as all other permitting happens at the federal level. The issuance of water rights was the first step of many that could lead to a nuclear plant being built near the Green River.

“What was he thinking when he signed that lengthy decision, our State Engineer? Did he remember we live in the desert? Did he know that in the desert water is life; without water there is only rock and windblown sand, nothing more?” Colleen Smith wrote these words in a letter to the editor on Feb. 2. Such feelings of disbelief and anger ran rampant around Moab when we heard of Jones’ decision. In our drought-prone desert, water gives rise to deep emotions and for good reason. Water is life. Anything that threatens our water or its purity threatens our lives as well as of 10s of millions of others downstream. In the early days, before Utah was Utah, more men were shot over water rights than over wives or horses.

“It’s foolish to build thirsty nuclear reactors in a desert like this,” says John Weisheit of Living Rivers. “The Green River is unreliable and over-appropriated. Even the state engineer, when granting the project rights to nearly 48 million gallons of water a day, asserted that there will not always be enough water to operate the plant.”

Additionally, it has come to light that Blue Castle’s funding is shaky or even non-existent. LeadDog Capital LP, originally listed as the primary financial backer was recently shut down by the SEC for fraud. So far, Blue Castle has not revealed any replacements.

In response to the engineer’s decision, in late March, HEAL Utah and Uranium Watch along with 30 other groups filed a lawsuit against the state engineer claiming that he had failed to uphold Utah law on several accounts when he approved water rights for Blue Castle. So far, there has been minimal response from Blue Castle, but it will be difficult to move forward until this issue is resolved.

Some issues raised in the lawsuit echo those raised at a Grand County Council meeting in October when Aaron Tilton, CEO of Blue Castle Holdings, gave a slick PowerPoint presentation to the council and a standing-room-only audience of Moab area residents. Tilton’s physical appearance in his finely tailored silk shirt and polished shoes was a reflection of his slick presentation – an unfortunate contrast to our respected local dignitaries in their jeans, cotton shirts and dusty cowboy boots.

After Tilton’s presentation – light on facts and heavy with rosy projections of the supposed benefits of the nuclear plant – the audience erupted with urgent questions and comments reflecting their frustration and anger. One woman left in tears. Water, of course, was the paramount concern: water for drinking, water for agriculture, water for recreation. And water for an emergency in case such should happen (as it recently did in Japan). There were concerns about the responsibility for emergency preparedness, which would fall largely on Moab. There were concerns about temporary housing for the men who would build the plant and of these men’s impact on local communities. One woman said she still had viable eggs and she was concerned for the future of her as yet unborn children. One old woman voiced concerns about children, unborn and otherwise, even though her “viable” eggs were long gone. Many were concerned about the reactors’ negative impact on tourism, which is crucial to our economic survival.

Individuals in our diverse and unique community share a common quality: We live here because we want to live here. This is true for those who are natives as well as those who chose to move here. This community and its landscape make up our spiritual home. The October council meeting was a reflection of this commonality. No Green River Nuke (NOGRN) is a gathering of people and groups with a single mission: To stop Blue Castle Holdings from building a nuclear power plant near the Green River.

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Barbara Galler is a poet and sometimes activist. She has lived in Moab for more than 10 years and has always loved the Four Corners area.