March 2010


San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant

San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, cc: photo by exquisitur

A gentleman from Wailuku quoted the Wall Street Journal while arguing that nuclear power was a reasonable long term solution for reducing the high cost of Hawai’i electric power.

I believe Mr. Kunishige overlooked a few points en route between the WSJ and his letter.

Government investment: Nuclear power is price competitive because of heavy government direct investment and subsidies. After World War II, the Federal Government funded considerable R&D for military and civilian nuclear energy. It has and continues to provide: risk insurance, which no private insurer will issue; billions of dollars in low interest loans and loan guarantees; storage facilities for radioactive waste and decommissioned reactors.

Therefore, moving government investment heavily into renewable energy sources would fit with existing practices, and as the HSBC report forecasts, will lead to competitive costs within this decade.

Scale: For the investment to be worthwhile, plants are typically sized for at least 1000 MW, more than the entire electrical output for the state in 2009. To justify a plant of that size, all of the islands would need to be linked via undersea power cables, with some of the routes over two miles deep.

NIMBY: It is highly unlikely that any county will wish to give up any of their shorelines for a plant site, since almost all suitable shores are the focus of visitor and resident recreation. Even if set inland, plants at likely sites would be considered eyesores, visible from most major towns and resorts. It is highly unlikely that the Legislature or the PUC would approve the plant and spent fuel storage ponds.

While the State is looking hard at non-fossil fuel energy supplies, it is looking at building up capacity in stages. The state has enough solar, wind, wave, geothermal, and ocean temperature gradient potential, that – coupled with the enormous up-front costs of nuclear plants – nuclear has not and will not be seriously considered.

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A gentleman from Lahaina is evidently unhappy with the results of the 2008 Presidential Campaign, listing six promises he feels the President hasn’t kept. Frankly, these are the same ‘ol, and my actual gripe is that the tone of the letter lacked evidence of a mature mind. As a self improvement exercise, I suggest that the writer:

1. Grow up. I’ll assume you’ve lived through a few Administrations by now, and know enough to realize that the Second Coming won’t arrive via the Electoral College.

2. Not cherry-pick the inevitable broken or compromised promises, but keep track of them all, and weigh the result.