Recent articles about my proposed education fund and related spent nuclear fuel recycling program have produced some uninformed and negative reactionary responses. I urge everyone in the media, political arena and the voting public to educate themselves about this important subject.
First, commercial recycling of used nuclear fuel has a long and successful history, mostly outside of the United States. The French company AREVA has successfully managed a recycling complex for more than 40 years.
Second, approximately 60,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel is stored at nuclear reactor sites never designed for storing such material. Deep geologic salt beds are the recommended sites for retrievable storage of spent nuclear fuel. To maximize storage capacity at the site, it makes sense to co-locate a recycling facility at the storage site. In terms of mass, 96 percent of used fuel is reusable. As with so many other materials, it makes environmental sense to recycle the used fuel.
Why would a community want to host a recycling site? Let’s look at Carlsbad, N.M., which entered into a partnership with the Department of Energy, the state of New Mexico and a company called URS to build the first Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) for nuclear materials storage. Carlsbad sits at the southern end of the Permian Salt Basin. This partnership resulted in a storage facility 2,150 feet below ground. I’ve visited the facility and it is a marvelous site. The WIPP consortium employs more than 1,000 people and brings in $250 million annually to Carlsbad. What problems have arisen due to WIPP? None. In fact, unemployment there has been just above 4 percent over the past years while national unemployment surpassed 9 percent. As of my visit to Carlsbad last month, more than 700 jobs were unfilled and developers could not keep up with housing demand.
Arizona has an opportunity to build a recycling and storage facility that will bring the host community $500 million annually during 50 years, create 18,000 construction jobs during a 10-year period, with 5,000 direct jobs and 30,000 indirect jobs, post-construction.
As an added benefit, we can dedicate part of the revenue stream to K-12 education and universities. The proposed AZ Energy-Education Fund will generate a minimum of $100 million a year for 50 years for education in our state, over and above what we are now spending. We have already met with representatives from K-12, universities, the Arizona Department of Education, power companies, technical experts and others, and these ideas have been well received.
Arizonans should understand that this is not a project that can or will be rushed. It is likely to be a 10-year process between planning, site determination, working with the local communities to make a proper presentation, and passing the needed legislation at the state and federal levels, all before we can break ground.
The naysayers have already begun sniping at the idea. These people have been overreacting to the ghost of “China Syndrome” for too long. The United States, France and other countries have long-established safety records with nuclear materials. The U.S. Navy has operated nuclear powered submarines and aircraft carriers for 50 years without incident. New Mexico’s WIPP facility has received nearly 11,000 shipments since 2000, without incident.
Arizona has a number of sites that are remote, contain deep geologic salt formations and have existing transportation infrastructure. It is time to let potential host communities nearest these sites make the decision. If the people say ‘yes’, the community benefits, education benefits and all Arizonans benefit.
— Sen. Al Melvin, a Tucson Republican, chairs the Senate Commerce and Energy Committee.