Senator Melvin’s energy plan to support education - The Explorer: Columns

Senator Melvin’s energy plan to support education

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Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 4:00 am

What if Arizona K-12 and universities had a dedicated revenue stream of $100 million or more every year? What if this revenue stream was counter-cyclical to the routine boom-bust cycles of our economy? What if this revenue stream was not connected to property taxes?

Co-locating Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS), recycling facility and future expansion for new technology makes sense. As the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) [On America’s Nuclear Future] noted, storage in some form, for some period of time, is an inevitable part of the nuclear fuel cycle. As part of its nuclear recycling and storage facilities, an interim storage facility would allow stranded used nuclear fuel to be transferred from reactor sites. Bring used fuel to a central location for interim storage, reprocessing, and permanent storage is an efficient and effective policy.

Arizona offers multiple sites that contain (1) remoteness, (2) deep geologic storage sites and (3) existing transportation infrastructure. These potential sites are in the Hualapai Valley north of Kingman, the Colorado Plateau province in the Holbrook Basin, the Picacho Basin southwest of Picacho Peak and in the San Simon Valley southeast of Safford in Graham County. The key to site selection is the opposite of the Yucca Mountain process, which was top down. Consent-based, bottom-up site selection by potential host communities is the key.

Based on a review of successful siting processes in the United States and abroad, including most notably the siting of a disposal facility for transuranic radioactive waste, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, and recent positive outcomes in Finland and Sweden, the BRC believes this type of consent-based approach by local communities can provide the flexibility and sustain the public trust and confidence needed to see controversial facilities through to completion.

The money to build a recycling plant, an enrichment plant, temporary and permanent monitored retrieval storage (MRS) sites already exists in the form of the Nuclear Waste Fund, which contains $25 billion. Nuclear ratepayers continually fund it at over $1 billion annually.

Arizona has the physical assets. Arizona has the professional expertise. What Arizona needs to build is the cross-disciplinary team that combines stakeholders from government, education (K-12 and universities), the private sector and our local communities. Initial stakeholder meetings appeared positive.

The benefits of nuclear energy can be seen in the comparative.  First, nuclear energy has the smallest environmental impact of any electricity source that emits no greenhouse gases. A wind farm would need 235 square miles to produce the same amount of electricity as a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant but the nuclear plant would need less than one percent of that area. A power plant this size can meet the needs of a city the size of Boston or Seattle.

One nuclear fuel pellet, one-quarter inch in diameter and one-half inch long, provides as much as 149 gallons of oil or one ton of coal or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas. America’s 104 civilian nuclear power reactors provide clean-air electricity for one in five homes and businesses. Five fuel pellets can meet a household’s electricity needs for an entire year. And nuclear is the most advanced renewable energy source of all the known renewable sources today.

Becoming a center for spent fuel reprocessing and MRS facilities necessarily becomes an economic multiplier through expanded nuclear research, production of medical isotopes, and expanded employment base in nuclear related industries from construction to decommissioning, from technicians to scientists and engineers, and the collateral positions that support and service employment growth.

The benefits to Arizona are a new, unfettered revenue stream for education; creation of up to 18,000 jobs during the construction phase; 5,000 direct jobs and 30,000 indirect jobs created post construction phase. The recycling and MRS operations would spend approximately $500 million on operating expenses annually. The opportunity is at hand.  The opportunity is Arizona’s to lose.

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