Arizona Capitol

AZ Senate Committee Says Nuclear Power Is a Renewable Energy Resource

Arizona is one step closer to officially declaring nuclear power a renewable-energy source. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

The Senate Committee on Water and Energy narrowly passed SB 1134, a bill that classifies "nuclear energy from sources fueled by uranium fuel rods that include 80 percent or more of recycled nuclear fuel and natural thorium reactor resources under development" to be a renewable-energy source.

Environmentalists are not happy, and frankly, no one who cares about linguistics should be either.

A renewable resource doesn't get depleted with use: the sun keeps shining if we harvest solar power, the wind keeps blowing if we erect turbines, the earth keeps producing heat if we harness geothermal power. But nuclear?

Sandy Bahr, chapter director of the Arizona Sierra Club, said "the very nature of mining"--which must be done to get nuclear material--"is that you are depleting a resource." Thus, nuclear energy cannot be called renewable.

As it stands now, the Arizona Administrative Code R14-2-1801 says nuclear and fossil fuels are not renewable resources. But Senator Steve Smith, a Republican from District 23, and the main sponsor of SB 1134, would like that to be changed.

He told the committee that by not recycling nuclear fuel rods like some European countries do, Arizona is missing out on a lot of potential energy. "Basically we just want to burn that energy twice," he said, and should Arizona decide to incorporate that technology in the future, this bill would allow us to count that as a renewable energy source.

After a handful of citizens and energy industry officials spoke for or against the bill, it was in the hands of the committee. Senator Lynne Pancrazi said she considers nuclear an "alternative energy," but "can't agree that nuclear is renewable;" Senator David Bradley said he "[appreciates] the fact that technology is allowing us to use rods a few times, but that doesn't make it a renewable;" and Senator Sylvia Allen said they could argue back and forth about the definitions of renewable and recyclable, but that it isn't the point of the bill."

What is the point of the bill, then, Senator Allen?

In the end, SB 1134 passed by one vote. "Luckily, it has a ways to go," Bahr told New Times. The bill still needs to get through the rules committee, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, which rejected a similar bill last year. "We'll see about this year, though" she said.

After the committee session, New Times caught up with Senator Smith and asked about his bill. What, for instance, is the difference between recyclable resources and renewable ones. He paused for moment, and then smiled. When it comes to nuclear materials, he said,"we have so much that can be reused that it's almost renewable!"

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser