Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bill Tasking DBEDT with Developing Permitting Requirements for Nuclear Power Plants

Hawaii's State Legislature House Bill 1 proposes to task the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism with creating a framework for permitting nuclear power plant installations in Hawaii. By State Constitution, nuclear power plants are prohibited in Hawaii --although there are at least a handful of nuclear powered U.S. Navy vessels in Pearl Harbor at any time.(**) A two thirds vote by the Legislature can amend the Constitution. The following text is my testimony in favor of this bill.

The scarcity and cost of fossil fuels makes the development of expensive nuclear energy a cost-effective if not essential proposition. France and Japan are leading examples of reliance on nuclear power with minimal ill effects. At the first oil crisis in 1973, only 1% of Japan’s electricity was produced by nuclear energy. By the second oil crisis of 1979, 4% was from nuclear; in 2000 the ratio was up to 12% and the 2010 goal is 15%. As of 2005, Japan had 52 operating nuclear plants, 3 in construction and 8 in planning and design. France is even more ahead: Its 59 nuclear plants produce 88% of the country’s electric power. There are about 440 nuclear power plants on the globe. France, Japan and the U.S. combined produce over 55% of the nuclear power energy on the globe.

The advantage of nuclear power is that it produces large amounts of dependable and easily controlled electric power like hydroelectric, coal-fired or oil-fired power plants. Solar, wind and wave energy have huge limitations in terms of capacity and reliability; practically all deployments are still experimental and heavily subsidized. No question that solar, wind and wave energy will be partners for the long-term energy sustainability in Hawaii, but they are unlikely to be the providers of the majority of the needed power.

They too have their environmental downsides such as requirements of very large areas for deployment, major susceptibility to hurricanes and/or tsunamis, large construction costs and all the noxious shortcomings of building, maintaining and disposing of expansive and expensive arrays of batteries which have a rather short life span.

One advantage of compact power plants is that since they are largely self sufficient (i.e., they do not need a tanker to anchor by regularly to refuel the plant) they can be placed off shore in what ocean engineers call “large floating structures.” Thus, a nuclear power plant can be 20 miles away into the ocean (still easily accessible) and provide electricity to Oahu with a cable. There are undersea power plant transmission lines in excess of 40 miles.

However, this bill is not about building nuclear power plants. This bill simply provides a way for us to take the blindfolds off and begin to address the real issues of Hawaii sustainability, twenty or more years into the future. This bill will allow us to begin assessing the potential and work towards answers to questions, issues and challenges of nuclear energy in Hawaii.

(**) I received some interesting feedback since this opinion was published in Hawaii Reporter.

Firstly, there are 15 nuclear submarines stationed at Pearl Harbor and at any time roughly about half are in port:
  1. USS Los Angeles (SSN 688), Pearl Harbor, HI
  2. USS Bremerton (SSN 698), Pearl Harbor, HI
  3. USS La Jolla (SSN 701), Pearl Harbor, HI
  4. USS Olympia (SSN 717), Pearl Harbor, HI
  5. USS Chicago (SSN 721), Pearl Harbor, HI
  6. USS Key West (SSN 722), Pearl Harbor, HI
  7. USS Louisville (SSN 724), Pearl Harbor, HI
  8. USS Pasadena (SSN 752), Pearl Harbor, HI
  9. USS Columbus (SSN 762), Pearl Harbor, HI
  10. USS Santa Fe (SSN 763), Pearl Harbor, HI
  11. USS Charlotte (SSN 766), Pearl Harbor, HI
  12. USS Tucson (SSN 770), Pearl Harbor, HI
  13. USS Columbia (SSN 771), Pearl Harbor, HI
  14. USS Greeneville (SSN 772), Pearl Harbor, HI
  15. USS Cheyenne (SSN 773), Pearl Harbor, HI
Secondly, each one of them is outfitted with a powerful nuclear reactor generating between 148 MW and 165 MW. For contrast, the new biodiesel power plant of HECO is rated at 110 MW. If memory serves, total electric power capacity on Oahu is under 1,000 MW. But Pearl Harbor submarines (half of the assigned fleet) have a potential output of 1,100 MW!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hawaii DOT Follows Through: Research Pays Off!

Governor Lingle's release of $140 million for two projects for freeway relief is significant, not only because these project are expected to provide major relief from traffic congestion but also because these projects started as university research projects.

These real solutions to Oahu's traffic problems were the products of collaborative research among the Department of Civil Engineering that UH-Manoa, the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration, as follows:

INVESTIGATION OF THE H-1 FREEWAY, Volume 2: EAST BOUND ANALYSES. Final Report prepared for HDOT and FHWA, Honolulu, January 2003.


Doug Meller of the Planning Section of HDOT was the project manager on both these projects, for which this author was the principal investigator assisted by 10 graduate and undergraduate students including Jerry Ji (Ph.D.), Honglong Li (PhD), James Watson (MSCE), Yuhao Wang (MSCE), Lani Andam, Brian Babb, A.K. Colburn, George Lau, Lizi Olson, and Jennifer Arinaga.

This funding announcement is a great example of research payoff. It is proof that detailed traffic simulation studies are needed in order to evaluate and quantify the advantages and pitfalls of various potential solutions; and choose the best feasible alternative for implementation.

Then it takes political acumen (Governor) and technical knowledge to follow through with the engineering design and costing (HDOT and engineering contractors) to bring research concepts to implementation for actual relief.
Kudos to Governor Lingle and Director Morioka.


Friday, January 2, 2009

Highlights and Lessons for Hawaii from "Global Trends 2025"

The Global Trends 2025 report is a must-read for all policy makers, company executives, regional planners, long-term strategists and concerned global citizens. Some of the expectations expressed in the report are quite relevant to Hawaii as they present likely challenges or opportunities. Here is a list of my highlights:


The United States will remain the single most powerful country but will be less dominant.

Growth projections for Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRICs) indicate they will collectively match the original G-7’s share of global GDP by 2040 to 2050.

A global multipolar system is emerging with the rise of BRIC. Indonesia, Iran, and Turkey are likely to be large regional players.

Shift in relative wealth and economic power is occurring from West to East.

Global markets are expected to recede.

Regionalism may solidify in three blocks: North America, Europe and East Asia. This, among other things, may undermine the goals of World Trade Organization (WTO) or international agreements (Kyoto protocol.) Regionalism may lead to regional product standards for information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, intellectual property rights, and other aspects of the “new economy”.

Resource issues will gain prominence on the international agenda. Strategic resources, energy, food, water. This gives rise to local, regional, national and global sustainability.


1.2 billion more people by 2025 will put pressure on energy, food, and water resources.

Climate change likely occurs but the locations and severity of its impacts are highly uncertain. Largest near term threat is drought or limited water supply in some regions.

Demography (low birth rate and fewer young paying the pensions of many old people) are major challenges for Europe and Japan. Will they have a sufficient number of workers to support robust economies?

Increase in oil and commodity prices have generated windfall profits for the Gulf states and Russia, but it is hard to predict the long term outlook of fossil energy use and pricing because…

…. energy transition away from oil is occurring rapidly to national gas, coal and solar, and more slowly in other areas such as improved energy storage, biofuels, hydrogen, clean coal and other alternatives. New energy technologies probably will not be commercially viable and widespread by 2025.

All current technologies are inadequate for replacing the traditional energy architecture on the scale needed.

Photovoltaic and wind energy, and improvements in battery technology are the most likely platforms for quick and inexpensive energy transitions.

Large scale solutions may come from individual projects enabling many small economic entities to develop their own energy transformation projects, such as fuel cells powering homes and office.

An energy transition is inevitable; the only questions are when and how abruptly or smoothly such a transition occurs.

New technologies provide solutions to overcome food and water constrains.

Lack of access to stable supplies of water is reaching critical proportions in some areas. The problem will worsen because of rapid urbanization. China is a prime example.

  • Brazil, Russia, India, and China are new and largely untapped markets for Hawaii, for tourism and other alliances. Initiatives to these markets are necessary to counter Japan’s likely shrinking economy.
  • Climate change maybe less of a threat to Hawaii as its primary short term effect, drought, is not a likely issue for Hawaii. Sea level change, if confirmed in magnitudes of a few feet above high tide, has the potential to devastate Hawaii’s beaches, shorelines, areas such as Kakaako and Mapunapuna, and some critical highways.
  • Hawaii is a near perfect test bed for solar and wind energy research and development, in addition to ocean and geothermal. Through the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute and other efforts, Hawaii has a rich knowledge base and experience on biofuels, clean carbon and other renewable alternatives. (By the way, there is wide agreement among experts that ethanol from corn is a counterproductive endeavor. It is time to repeal the state law that forces Hawaii to import corn ethanol from the mainland.)
  • Production of adequate food supply for our local demand is a long lost battle in Hawaii, so sustainable transpacific transportation of foods, staples and industrial products is a priority in order to sustain life for 1.3 million residents and roughly 100,000 tourists (per day.)