(Image: The hull of the Russian floating nuclear plant, now under construction, the Akademik Lomonosov. Credit: Rosenergoatom)
Some have argued that nuclear energy is appropriate, that it's readily available, and that it's cheap.
For anyone who does a minimal amount of research, it seems clear that for small communities like Kauai, nuclear energy is none of those things, even ignoring the elephant in the room: the debate over safety and radioactive waste disposal.
First, it remains unconstitutional in Hawai'i to build a nuclear plant. (Here's the actual language from the state Constitution: “No nuclear fission power plant shall be constructed or radioactive material disposed of in the State without the prior approval by a two-thirds vote in each house of the legislature.”)
Second, there is not available for purchase today a small (less than 100 megawatts) utility-configured nuclear plant. It's the Holy Grail of energy, and lots of companies are planning or designing them, but right now, you can't buy one, anywhere. (See this article in The Economist, and this article in the Wall Street Journal: )
Third, if there were one for purchase, it wouldn't be cheap. At a minimum, a plant twice the size of Kaua'i's entire grid is estimated to cost $5,000 per kilowatt to build, and that plant has not yet been built anywhere in the world, or even gone through permitting. (See the WSJ article above.) Other estimates have suggested a price that is multiples of that number.
There is a new international initiative to simply move nuclear power offshore. Russia is building a barge-mounted floating nuclear plant of 75 megawatts, the Akademik Lomonosov, which uses Russian maritime nuclear reactors. And we have previously written about the French proposal to put a nuclear plant on the ocean floor.
At a recent utility conference I attended, supporters of nuclear energy estimated permitting alone for a new nuclear plant in the United States could take 15 years. That's 2026 if we started right now.
Our energy needs are more pressing than that. Talking about nuclear in Hawai`i at this time is little more than a distraction.
© Jan TenBruggencate 2010