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Spent nuclear fuel recycling proposal generates questions

SHAWN RAYMUNDO | The State Press |
The Arizona legislature sent a proposal to the federal government May 1 that would create a spent nuclear fuel recycling facility to serve the nation.
SHAWN RAYMUNDO | The State Press | The Arizona legislature sent a proposal to the federal government May 1 that would create a spent nuclear fuel recycling facility to serve the nation.


The Arizona legislature's request for U.S. government funding that would implement a spent nuclear fuel recycling facility has lead environmental groups to question the practicality and sustainability of housing such a venture in the state.

Sponsored by Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, Senate Concurrent Memorial 1004 was transmitted to the U.S. government May 1 for approval.

The location of the facility has yet to be decided, though Safford, Holbrook, Kingman and Picacho Peak are being considered.

Approval of SCM 1004 would federally fund construction of a spent nuclear fuel facility that would serve to recycle 96 percent of the nation's nuclear fuel and attempt to bury the remaining four percent.

Melvin said 2,000 tons of waste produced per year by the nation’s 104 nuclear reactors would be transported to the facility.

He said Arizona's proposal was more environmentally conscious than a former congressional proposal that would have buried 100 percent of the spent nuclear fuel in Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

Melvin said the facility would take 10 years to build, operate under a 50-year contract with the federal government and would benefit Arizona by providing construction jobs, on-site jobs and revenue to the state.

He said the proposal mimics France's method of spent nuclear fuel recycling.

"What we're proposing is ... to be environmentally correct and follow the French example of recycling," Melvin said.

He said the best way to dispose of the remaining four percent of spent nuclear fuel would be burying it in one of Arizona's salt deposits.

Melvin said the $100 million in expected revenue from recycling nuclear waste would go toward maintaining the facility with the remainder benefiting Arizona’s education system.

Though the memorial passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives, it was not unopposed.

Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, said he couldn't imagine anything more divisive and controversial than the proposal.

"That which has been mined in Arizona for uranium (and) for anything else involving nuclear waste, in the end the taxpayers pay to clean it up," Chabin said. "It's foolish."

He said he would be less opposed to the memorial had an Arizona community come forward requesting the facility.

"If there was a community in Arizona that stood up and said they wanted it and were prepared to put the plans together to house it and process it, then okay," Chabin said. "To turn around and proclaim this is something Arizona wants, I just think the legislature is completely out of touch."

He said there would be grassroots opposition if the facility were to be approved for funding.

Sierra Club spokeswoman Sandy Bahr lobbied against the memorial during a senate committee meeting.

Bahr said she felt the memorial lacked the research necessary to determine an appropriate location for such a facility.

"Most people are not going to think this is a good idea," Bahr said. "Overall, this memorial shows how really out of touch the Arizona legislature is with the people of Arizona."

She said more time should be spent looking at environmental ways of generating electricity.

"Everyone ... thinks we ought to be investing in solar," Bahr said. "We have a lot of sunshine."

She said though no one way of generating electricity is entirely benign, solar offers an alternative to nuclear that eliminates waste more effectively and efficiently.

Bahr said Melvin's proposal ignored modern environmental information.

"Nuclear power has huge problems," Bahr said. "Nuclear waste is a huge issue and we need to deal with it in a responsible manner."

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