Election Could Determine State's Future in Nuclear Power

Phoenix, AZ – There are two open seats up for grabs on the Arizona Corporation
Commission. That agency not only regulates the rates for private
utility companies but also has a major say about where they
generate their power. For example the commission has mandated
that companies must get 15 percent of their electricity from
renewable sources by 2025. But that still leaves the question of
where does the rest of it come from. The last nuclear plant built
in this country happens to be Palo Verde, about 50 miles west of
Phoenix, which first went on line in 1986. Now there is renewed
interest in nuclear, with even President Obama wanting to
guarantee loans to utilities. But the two Democrats running for
the commission are less than enthusiastic. Jorge Garcia said he's
not convinced those spent fuel rods can be safely stored forever.
Nor does he believe reprocessing is the answer.

(There's some folks out of Tucson who basically say, look, the
model that's being pushed about the French model, they recycle
the nuclear, they're only recycling no more than 5 percent. So
they still have a lot that's still expendable.)

Democrat David Bradley said his concerns are more practical.

(The current projects have all gone over budget. The
Congressional Budget Office itself says the likelihood of most
guaranteed loans defaulting is about 50 to 75 percent. That means
that ratepayers and taxpayers are going to have to bear this
burden to make it work. It's not going to work in the near future
for Arizona. I think it would be folly to make it a central part
of anybody's long-term plan.)

But Republican Gary Pierce said concerns about the safety of
storing spent fuel rods is overblown, even with the failure of
the federal government to create a permanent storage facility in
Nevada. He said all the spent fuel rods from Palo Verde since it
has been operating are encased in concrete and stored in an area
about half the size of a football field.

(So that is something that is kind of a red herring. Because that
issue is really handled. We would like to see it all moved to
Yucca Mountain. But if it's not, we're dealing with it.)

Fellow Republican Brenda Burns said she wants to hear from the
utilities about how they plan to meet future energy needs.

(But it is in APS' plan for the future. And we need to see what
they put together. We need to start looking at things in a
broader perspective, as I said earlier. We've got to have a
diversified portfolio. I know one gentleman who wrote a book
called Terrestrial Energy believe that the combination of nuclear
and photovoltaic is the way to go.)

Burns said she believes that nuclear will need to be part of any
future energy mix. She said Arizona needs power plants to meet
its base load, plants that can run around the clock and are not
subject to the the availability of sun and wind since there is no
commercially viable way now of storing generated power.
Libertarian Rick Fowlkes said he believes the decisions of how to
generate power should be left to the utility companies -- but
with the proviso that they should have to complete for customers
and not be guaranteed a fixed rate of return on their investment.
At this point no utility is interested in the alternative of
coal-fired plans, with fears ranging from environmental to the
possibility Congress might impose some sort of carbon emissions
tax. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.