Storing Nuclear Waste to Fund Education

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State Senator Al Melvin, Tucson Republican and Chair of the House Commerce and Energy Commission, explains his plan to raise money for public education by storing nuclear waste in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Senator Al Melvin, a Republican from Tucson, has an idea to raise money for public education by storing nuclear waste in Arizona. Here to tell you us more about that plan is state senator Al Melvin. Good to see you again.

Sen. Al Melvin: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: Arizona energy education fund. What in the world are we talking about here?

Sen. Al Melvin: Well, basically what it is, it's actually a product of the Obama administration, they created an entity called the blue ribbon commission on America's nuclear future. And basically it's a bipartisan commission, the website is BRC.GOV, and its purpose is to find an alternative to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, to recycle and/or store spent nuclear fuel. So I've been looking at that commission, I visited them in Washington, and I've been a big proponent of nuclear energy, the U.S. navy's been underway on nuclear power for over half a century, safely without incident. We have 104 commercial reactors in the United States, three of them are just west of here at Palo Verde, the largest nuclear reactor facility in the country, so I thought this was a very interesting topic, and a way for Arizona to step up to the plate to help solve a national need.

Ted Simons: But where would this nuclear waste, where would the nuclear waste be stored, and have you talked to people in parts of Arizona saying, hey, would you like a nuclear dump in your back yard?

Sen. Al Melvin: It's not a nuclear dump. One could say perhaps that Yucca Mountain was, but what we're proposing is what France has been doing for 30 years successfully and safely. Instead of burying spent nuclear fuel in a mountain, as was proposed in Yucca Mountain, 95% of it, in France they recycle 95% to become new usable fuel and only 5% has to be disposed of. So it's a tremendous opportunity. That facility, it's estimated that if we do this here, it would be about a $20 billion investment by the federal government, I can talk about that a little later, it would employ about 18,000 construction workers over a period of eight to 10 years, once it was built there would be about 5,000 full-time direct employees as well as about 30,000 first-tier around it and it would probably result in about $500 million being inserted into that community on an annual basis of the facility would have a life span of about 50 years.

Ted Simons: And Arizona would be known as a place where nuclear waste is stored. Is that --

Sen. Al Melvin: No. No. Not stored. As I said, we would be recycling 95%.

Ted Simons: 5% would be --

Sen. Al Melvin: 5%, yes.

Ted Simons: But -- about 100 mil or so would go to education. Would it be dedicated, A, to education, and B, is this the best way to fund education in Arizona?

Sen. Al Melvin: No, it's just a supplemental education -- education funding. It's in addition to what we're doing now. We are -- we're spending, and we've protected this spending at about 9,000 per child K-12, if you include federal, state, and local property taxes.

Ted Simons: That includes some other folks also that aren't necessarily teachers. That -- we've gone through that number -- I get what you're saying though.

Sen. Al Melvin: This would be in addition to that. This would be part of an incentive for the state. It would be a user fee. And the way it would work, these 104 reactors generate about 2,000 tons of spent fuel per year. And our proposal is that we would charge a user fee of $50,000 per metric ton times 2,000 tons equal $100 million that. That would be the price that we would charge as a state to do this recycling here.

Ted Simons: We've got such little time here. I want to ask you, if this is such a great idea, are other states trying to horn in on this, A, and B, are we competing against anybody for this? Because it sounds to me like Yucca Mountain is out there and no one wants to touch it.

Sen. Al Melvin: It's because it was not a very well conceived idea. But for over 15 years, there's a program that I just visited in southeast New Mexico called the whip project. And it's as what we're proposing here -- U.S. department of energy, the state, and local private sector, and as -- they've been disposing of low level nuclear waste there for about 15 years, and as a result, $250 million dollars come into are that community and they want to expand and do what we're proposing here. I will be running a memorial which will be a sense of the senate, which will be transmitted to the federal government during the session because it's pending federal legislation that will occur next year.

Ted Simons: Last question, real quickly, you understand some people think this is a preposterous idea.

Sen. Al Melvin: I believe this would be a rejuvenation of education in Arizona. It would result in a renewed interest and what educators call stem. Science, technology, engineering, and math. This is technically sound, and we're having workshops with the education community to make a partnership in order to educate our people about an opportunity that is safe and scientifically proven.

Ted Simons: We've got to stop you there. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Sen. Al Melvin: I'll be back.

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