Thursday, November 26, 2015         


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Nuclear option advances energy independence

By Linda M. Lewandowski


During the recent Asia Pacific Clean Energy conference in Honolulu, state Sen. Fred Hemmings introduced a provocative energy solution for Hawaii in the form of small modular reactors (SMRs). Hemmings and industry proponents think that small modular reactors could be installed on the most populated islands and provide base load power within five years.

So if Hawaii's Clean Energy Initiative goal is to be 70 percent clean by 2030 and the islands are well endowed with renewable resources like wind and solar, does a nuclear energy option make sense?

SMRs are the only form of energy generation that can be scaled rapidly and economically to allow current oil and coal dollars to become available for re-investment in developing a high-tech economy while simultaneously decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Even though the islands are rich in indigenous clean energy resources, significant investment will be required to bring an adequate mix of these renewable sources to utility-scale production.

For example, intermittence issues associated with wind and solar will require additional huge investments and long lead times to ensure stable and reliable electrical power. Demand growth for power, especially with the introduction of electric cars this year, also drives urgency for near-term solutions.

There are other important advantages of SMRs. They are modular, so adding capacity with growing demand is easier. Additionally, they require a much smaller land footprint than equivalent-powered renewable sources like wind and solar . Best of all, Hawaii can become a hub of high-tech jobs for ramped-up worldwide nuclear power demand.

So why haven't we heard about any nuclear options? Fear and misinformation, plain and simple. There have been no new nuclear plant permits issued over the last thirty years because of the fear generated over the nuclear reactor shutdown at Three Mile Island in 1979. Not one person was injured due to the incident. The Navy has effectively deployed and operated compact nuclear reactors for decades and several nuclear powered naval vessels are homeported at Pearl Harbor. In fact, the U.S. holds an enviable safety record across the entire energy generation sector, with no significant injuries or deaths, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Times and attitudes have changed. MSNBC quotes President Barack Obama: "On an issue that affects our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, we can't continue to be mired in the same old stale debates between left and right, between environmentalists and entrepreneurs. Our competitors are racing to create jobs and command growing energy industries. And nuclear energy is no exception."

Billions in loan guarantees for new construction have underscored his commitment to move forward with expanding nuclear energy generation. Two new plants are planned in Georgia. Also, a bipartisan commission is working to remedy age-long nuclear waste issues and safety concerns. Changing attitudes are reflected in a recent article in Wealth Daily which purports that respected environmentalists like Patrick Moore and Stewart Brand now support nuclear energy.

So who's on the leading adopter edge? Reuters recently reported that investors like Bill Gates and others have jumped in to back domestic and international nuclear startups with big money. Saudi Arabia has decided to build nuclear-powered desalination plants. China plans to increase nuclear power capacity by 500 percent by 2020. Those markets alone are huge and would add additional incentives for continued US nuclear energy innovation and job creation.

Hawaii should move to immediately remove its nuclear ban and amend the state constitution to allow nuclear energy development. Accelerating energy independence and immediately beginning to significantly decrease greenhouse gas emissions are the most compelling argument for nuclear power generation. We can accelerate Hawaii's energy independence by moving ahead now.

Linda Lewandowski is enrolled in Duke University's Environmental Leadership Program. She is also a retired U.S. Navy line officer and previous ship commander. She is a subject matter expert in National Security and Defense issues and Vice President with ICF International. She lives on the Big Island with her husband and two children.


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