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!