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Energy Choices for Hawaii

Both senatorial candidates as did many other candidates used the same talking points for Hawaii’s energy future. Many uniformly supported and promoted wind, solar, and ethanol, as the road to energy nirvana. The politics of Hawaii demands an absolute deference to these energy sources or risk political oblivion. But it needs to be said that a state or nation heavily dependent upon these future energy sources is in serious trouble. Yet this is where the political forces of Hawaii are leading.

Hawaii, as does the rest of the United States, has serious energy problems, which, if unheeded, will only get worse. We have the highest priced electricity in the nation ( http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/cost.html ) and the highest priced gasoline in the nation. Both are related to the central problem which is that Hawaii imports most of this energy from oil (77 percent) and coal (18 percent), from lands far away. There are no indigenous supplies of this fossil energy. This is a problem not taken very seriously by state leaders.

This was on display during the recent primary elections in Hawaii which featured energy issues in many of the debates. Both senatorial candidates as did many other candidates used the same talking points for Hawaii’s energy future. Many uniformly supported and promoted wind, solar, and ethanol, as the road to energy nirvana. The politics of Hawaii demands an absolute deference to these energy sources or risk political oblivion. But it needs to be said that a state or nation heavily dependent upon these future energy sources is in serious trouble. Yet this is where the political forces of Hawaii are leading.

Hawaii needs to include more options in... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Hawaii, as does the rest of the United States, has serious energy problems, which, if unheeded, will only get worse. We have the highest priced electricity in the nation ( http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/cost.html ) and the highest priced gasoline in the nation. Both are related to the central problem which is that Hawaii imports most of this energy from oil (77 percent) and coal (18 percent), from lands far away. There are no indigenous supplies of this fossil energy. This is a problem not taken very seriously by state leaders.

This was on display during the recent primary elections in Hawaii which featured energy issues in many of the debates. Both senatorial candidates as did many other candidates used the same talking points for Hawaii’s energy future. Many uniformly supported and promoted wind, solar, and ethanol, as the road to energy nirvana. The politics of Hawaii demands an absolute deference to these energy sources or risk political oblivion. But it needs to be said that a state or nation heavily dependent upon these future energy sources is in serious trouble. Yet this is where the political forces of Hawaii are leading.

Hawaii needs to include more options in its pursuit of alternative energy sources. With the many new reactor designs that have been developed around the world, nuclear energy should be reconsidered. There have been major advances in the designs of new reactors around the world and the U.S. Such design features include smaller, modular, much safer, passively safe (can shut down automatically if needed), and less costly.

Even though Hawaii state law forbids the use of nuclear power, at any one time there can be up to a dozen nuclear reactors in the ships berthed in Pearl Harbor. Such reactors can be found in today’s aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. The Nimitz class carriers can have 2 reactors of more than 100 MW(e) each. These provide all of the electricity needed on board as well as the energy for propulsion for decades without refueling.

Nuclear reactor technology and design did not stand still during the past 30 year U.S. construction suspension. Other nations have continued to build them. New reactor designs are smaller, with far fewer components, and simpler to build. These are being seriously considered in many nations as the need for new electrical capacity expands.

Some of these designs are summarized by S.S. Penner at http://tinyurl.com/grtbc

The new Modular Pebble Bed Reactor design (MPBR) is described by MIT experts at http://web.mit.edu/pebble-bed/ .

The Westinghouse AP-600 design ( http://www.ap600.westinghousenuclear.com/ ) and has 50 percent fewer valves, 80 percent less safety grade piping, 70 percent less control cable, 35 percent fewer pumps (no safety grade pumps), and 45 percent less seismic building volume than earlier conventional reactors. And there are others such as the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) several of which have been built in Japan ( http://tinyurl.com/h9fpt ).

Several utilities are considering using such reactors for the production of hydrogen during off-peak hours, not simply for electricity. The hydrogen as we should know by now would be used for transportation fuel needs either directly or through hydrogen powered fuel cell technologies. Likewise, if more and more electric cars are used, their batteries could be charged with this electricity.

Many nuclear reactors are currently under construction around the world. According to the Uranium Information Centre of Australia ( http://www.uic.com.au/nip19.htm ), there are now 30 reactors under construction in 12 countries. More than 30 countries have nuclear power plants. France leads the world with 78 percent of all of its electricity generated by nuclear power plants. Communities in France have quarreled over who gets the next new reactor. It means jobs and tax revenues and low cost electricity for them. Lithuania is close behind with 70 percent nuclear electricity and Belgium at 55 percent.

If we think that Hawaii is having difficult economic times now, wait until nations such as India and China mature economically and complete their planned new 250 Mw(e) capacity (or about 250 1000Mw(e) reactors) by 2030. They also building huge hydroelectric dams and are planning to triple their numerous coal fired electrical plants by the year 2030 ( http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/coal.html ). India is another emerging giant to watch as it builds new electrical nuclear and coal plants.

The message is that abundant electricity helps makes a nation productive and competitive in the global market. The Asian nations have learned that low cost, bulk supplies of reliable electricity are very tightly linked to economic productivity, personal wealth and well-being.

We simply cannot compete economically in the same world with these huge looming economic forces without expanding our own electrical capacity. For these and other reasons part of the future energy mix for Hawaii must include the nuclear option. It makes so much sense. Instead of fossil fuel supply lines thousands of miles long often from hostile countries, domestic nuclear power plants are now being designed to last a number of years without refueling.

Nuclear energy is quite clean, as the French and others are finding, and produces not a single molecule of carbon dioxide, NOx, SO2 when operating. The fuel is uranium which has a very high energy density (energy per unit weight of fuel). On a pound for pound basis the uranium will have about 2.5 million times the energy as in the same weight of fossil fuel.

A large reactor with a core of only 12 foot diameter and perhaps 15 feet high could provide all of the electrical needs for Honolulu a city of 850,000. This also means that the amount of waste produced from the nuclear fuel will be vastly smaller too. As the French and others are showing everyday, such a reactor will produce about 3 cubic meters of nuclear waste per year, not per hour or day, but per year.

On a simpler level a 100 watt bulb that ran continuously for a year would consume 876 kwhr. To produce this electricity would require 876 pounds of coal, up to 377 lbs. of natural gas, 508 lbs of oil (about one barrel), or 0.0007 lbs of 4 percent enriched uranium fuel (about 0.3 grams). Clearly, this leads to about 0.3 grams of nuclear waste for the year’s effort.

This technology would end Hawaii’s long and vulnerable energy supply lines from hostile countries, eliminate the emissions of the fossil fuel plants (which now blanket China), reduce electrical energy costs well below the 20 cents/kw-hr we now have. This would also produce a very small waste volume relative to the hundreds of thousands of tons annually from same-sized coal plants.

To give the reader an idea of the implications of the high energy density of nuclear fuel, consider the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station 50 miles west of Phoenix. This 3 reactor installation annually generates more electricity than any other power plant of any kind in the U.S., including coal, oil, natural gas, or hydro. In 2005 Palo Verde Station generated more electricity (more than 25 million megawatt-hrs) than all wind and solar facilities combined in the U.S.

To equal this amount of energy with coal, those plants would have to receive and burn more than 300 100-ton coal cars everyday and produce all of those emissions in the Arizona desert.

Let’s compare the regulated emissions from U.S. coal plants avoided by the use instead of nuclear plants. From 1995 to 2005 the nuclear power plants in the US avoided the emissions of 41.0 million tons of sulfur dioxide, 16.9 million tons of nitrogen oxide, and 7.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide ( http://www.nei.org/index.asp?catnum=2&catid=43 ).

The fleet of U.S. 103 nuclear power plants which provide 20 percent of all the U.S. electrical needs is extremely reliable with capacity factors hovering around 90 percent. By comparison coal plants average 73 percent, natural gas up to 37 percent (depending upon how the plant is run), wind at 30 percent, and solar at 18 percent ( http://www.nei.org/index.asp?catnum=2&catid=106 ).

The much maligned issue of waste management and handling is routinely performed around the world in more than 30 countries. In some countries the unused fuel is wisely recycled from the spent fuel, recovered, and refabricated into new fuel. This is an old technology which was developed in the U.S., but has been largely exported to other nations (along with thousands of high-paying jobs)

Some prominent leaders in the environmental movement are having second thoughts about nuclear energy as reported by the NEI - http://tinyurl.com/g2br7 .

For example from Patrick Moore: “By the mid-1980s, I became aware of the emerging concept of sustainable development: balancing environmental, social and economic priorities ... . Since then, I have worked under the banner of Greenspirit to develop an environmental policy platform based on science, logic, and the recognition that more than six billion people need to survive and prosper every day of the year ... . Renewable energies, such as wind, geothermal and hydro are part of the solution. Nuclear energy is the only nongreenhouse gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand.” - Patrick Moore, leading ecologist and environmentalist, founder of Greenpeace, Chair and Chief Scientist of Greenspirit, The Miami Herald, Jan. 30, 2005

From James Lovelock: “By all means, let us use the small input from renewables sensibly, but only one immediately available source does not cause global warming, and that is nuclear energy ... . Nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources . . . We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilization is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear -- the one safe, available, energy source -- now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet.” — James Lovelock, leading environmentalist, creator of the Gaia theory, The Independent (UK), “Nuclear Power is the Only Green Solution,” May 24, 2004

From Norris McDonald: “If we NIMBY anywhere and anytime, we should not expect the utility industry to provide electricity to everyone, everywhere, all of the time. If we believe that global warming is a real threat to our planet, then the very best way to provide base load electricity is through emission-free production of nuclear power.” - Norris McDonald, President, African American Environmentalist Association Oct. 22, 2003

A serious re-examination of Hawaii’s energy future is urgently needed. The leaders of Hawaii should consider the vulnerabilities of their current energy situation as an island state. As an island nation Japan recognized this threat more than 30 years ago and has a viable and growing nuclear energy program which now includes 54 large reactors. Hopefully, Hawaii will include the nuclear option when searching for future alternative energy supplies.

Michael R. Fox, Ph.D., is the science and energy reporter for Hawaii Reporter. A resident of Kaneohe, he has nearly 40 years experience in the energy field. He has also taught chemistry and energy at the University level. His interest in the communications of science has led to several communications awards, hundreds of speeches, and many appearances on television and talk shows. He is also the Director Center for Science, Climate and Environment for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. He can be reached via email at mailto:foxm011@hawaii.rr.com


Source: http://www.hawaiireporter.c...

OCT 4 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/5070-energy-choices-for-hawaii
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