Green River Confronts Nuke

[imgbelt img=utahprotest.gif]The U.S. hasn’t built a new nuclear power generating station in decades. A company wants to change that record in a town of 973 in Utah.

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When Alfredo Figueroa stands on the banks of the Colorado River he is reverent out of respect for his tribal heritage yet troubled for future of this overused waterway, which is not only the lifeblood of the Chemehuevi people but also the primary drinking water source for tens of millions of people in the Southwest.

For centuries the Chemehuevi tribe has depended on the river for drinking water, fishing and crop irrigation, as well as for the spiritual connection it provides between heaven and earth. And for years the tribe, whose members are descended from the ancient Aztecs, has fought anything that could harm the river.

Now the tribe is bracing to fight a nuclear power plant being planned for rural Southeastern Utah on the banks of the Green River, the Colorado’s largest tributary. This past weekend Figueroa and others from the tribe plan traveled 450 miles from their riverside home near Blyth, CA to Green River, Utah, a tiny town of 973, to protest the construction of twin nuclear reactors.

“We have to protect our river,” Figueroa said.

The protestors say they’ve got a big point to make in this little town.

“This isn’t the place for a nuclear power plant,” said Laurel Hagen, a spokeswoman for the No Green River Nuke Coalition, one of the groups coordinating the event. The coalition and more than a dozen other organizations say that project proposed by Provo, Utah-based Blue Castle Holdings threatens the fragile Green River.

They also are motivated by a number of other concerns, including what they say are Blue Castle’s shaky finances and troubled track record, the secondary impacts of mining and milling the radioactive uranium that will help power the plant, and the reactor’s potential threat to regional safety.

The Saturday demonstration, which the groups called “Celebrate and Protect the Green and Colorado Rivers and the Colorado Plateau,” was designed to get the attention of people who may not be aware of the consequences of the reactors and to dissuade potential investors in the facility, Hagen said.

Reed Searle, Blue Castle’s vice president of business development, said the company encourages discussions about the project and has held a series of public meetings in Green River and surrounding communities to address any concerns.

“These days nothing happens without people expressing their opinion on both sides,” Searle said. “We welcome a healthy exchange of information.”

He said company officials will be happy to address any specific issues raised at Saturday’s demonstration. But he acknowledges, “in the long run we are not likely to come to an understanding.”

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A coalition of groups, small businesses and individuals opposed to the reactor proposal has filed a lawsuit in Utah District Court to have the decision to grant the project water rights overturned, an act that would probably end the project.

But Saturday was all about creating a public stir, Hagen said.

“We need to get more public scrutiny of this project,” she said. “And we do that by making sure people know what’s being planned; making them understand the risks.”

David Hasemyer is a reporter for InsideClimate News, a non-profit news service covering energy and the environment.

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