While the public is focused on the economy during this final week of the election season, the nation still faces a looming energy crisis.
Republican Al Melvin, making his second bid for state Senate in Legislative District 26, this year against Democrat Cheryl Cage, wants Arizona to lead the country as part of Sen. John McCain's proposal to build 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030.
Melvin doesn't just one want nuclear plant, "but two or three or four or five of them." Melvin says the United States hasn't built a nuclear reactor in more than 30 years because of frivolous lawsuits brought on by environmental groups. "The United States, environmentally, has been held hostage," he says. "These (activists) are the same people who don't want to drill in (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) ... who, frankly, I think are happy to see gasoline prices go up so consumption will go down and, I don't know, force us onto bicycles."
While he doesn't offer any specific policy prescriptions, Melvin promises to research the government regulations standing in the way of nuclear energy. He would not support subsidies for nuclear power, but would like the private sector to build more reactors at the Palo Verde site and smaller reactors at military bases across the state, including Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
"We're behind the 8-ball, because we haven't done anything for 30 years," Melvin says. "We have to get cracking here."
Nuclear waste wouldn't be a problem, according to Melvin, if we did what the French do and reprocess our waste--a process which has been federally outlawed since President Carter signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act in 1978.
"Nothing burns cleaner than nuclear energy," he says.
Melvin's opponent, Cage, says she wouldn't encourage more nuclear power plants in Arizona. Instead, she would like the state to invest in solar energy through public-private partnerships between the universities and solar companies.
"There are more logical solutions out there without the myriad problems of nuclear," she says. "We would be ridiculous to not catch the wave of the solar revolution."
Down in Legislative District 30, Republicans Frank Antenori and David Gowan, running for two House seats against Democrat Andrea Dalessandro, say they would also like to see more nuclear power plants in Arizona.
A former Green Beret, Antenori says he maintained nuclear missiles and held launch codes as a military nuclear weapons specialist.
"I got to touch and work on real live nuclear bombs with my hands, man," he says.
As a legislator, he would "reduce the tax burden" to encourage the construction of nuclear power plants by providing a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for research and development and building infrastructure.
His tax reduction would apply to all alternative energies, because he believes Arizona is in a prime position to become the "energy juggernaut of the Southwest."
The Legislature should work with the federal government, he says, to deregulate the nuclear industry and cut the time it takes to build a nuclear plant without compromising public safety. However, he wouldn't spend tax dollars to help the industry.
"That's socialism," he says. "If you stagnate business by writing a welfare check ... people are going to sit on their fat ass and collect their subsidy."
Antenori also thinks the United States should reprocess nuclear waste--but also offers up a rumored plan for a private company to shoot our nuclear waste into the sun.
"But that's above my pay grade, as Barack Obama would say," Antenori laughs.
Antenori believes the blame for the decline in the United States nuclear-energy program can be placed on one person: "Jane Fonda!" The lefty actress starred in a 1979 movie that depicted a nuclear disaster, The China Syndrome.
"And, of course, Chernobyl didn't help," Antenori adds.
Despite calling for more nuclear power at the Legislative District 30 Clean Elections debate, David Gowan seems a little hazy on the specifics of nuclear policy.
In an e-mail interview, Gowan responded, "Why not nuclear energy?" While he admits legislators can't do much to influence Arizona's nuclear policy, he writes: "Whatever the state can do to encourage the production of clean energy is a good thing," adding that if elected, he would "work as part of a team with other legislators and regulators, as well as local officials from whatever part of the state that might be involved."
His plan for nuclear waste is three-fold: reprocess it like France does; wait until the federal government builds a national repository; or store it at various sites like we already do.
In closing, he writes, "Most folks would be surprised at how physically small the quantity of waste produced actually is."
As of April 2008, the United States had accumulated about 56,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Dalessandro says nuclear isn't the answer and calls solar "one of the state's biggest hopes."
She says the first bill she would like to pass would retrofit all schools with solar panels. She says nuclear uses too much water, is expensive and dangerous.
"I'd be curious to see if my opponents would like a nuclear plant near where they live," Dalessandro says.
Russell Lowes, the director of research for SafeEnergyAnalyst.org, and author of a publication on the Palo Verde nuclear plant titled Energy Options for the Southwest, says besides having almost no say in the matter, the candidates don't understand the incredible financial and environmental costs of building more nuclear plants.
The probability of Melvin's plan for Arizona to build as many as five reactors is "way off base," Lowes says, citing studies that place a reactor's total cost at about $9.5 billion each.
"I have a feeling it's a lot of bravado and macho stuff going on there."
Reprocessing waste involves separating low-level from high-level uranium, Lowes says. France disposes of the low-level waste by running it through a pipeline to the ocean, he explains, and re-uses some of the remaining high-level uranium.
"They're the biggest preprocessor in the world, and all they can fuel (with reprocessed waste) is 10 percent of their plants," Lowes says. "After all these billions of dollars they spent, France's fossil energy is still cheaper than their nuclear energy."
He explains the current push for nuclear power is part of a massive propaganda campaign paid for by nuclear-energy companies.
"That's why the Republicans are saying it's cheap," Lowes says. "They're handed this little booklet; I have a copy of it ... that they hand to every legislator in the United States, and the booklet has all kinds of misinformation in it--citing studies that just don't make sense."