Could Hawaii get its clean energy from nuclear?

August 11, 2021, 6:03AMANS Nuclear Cafe
A satellite image of Hawaii. Image: NASA

Jacob Wiencek, a self-described concerned resident of Honolulu, is doing his part to encourage the state of Hawaii to embrace nuclear power. An opinion piece written by Wiencek was published in Honolulu Civil Beat, an online, nonprofit news site, on August 4.

“To Go Green, Go Nuclear”: The title of Wiencek’s opinion piece sums up his argument that the nuclear option could build a more sustainable and resilient Hawaii.

Under a law passed in 2015, Hawaii has a mandate to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. But, as Wiencek notes, “The geography of the islands has put a high premium on land suitable for solar and wind power development that conflicts with our desire for more food security and sustainability. To meet the challenge of transitioning to a clean energy economy that helps combat climate change and improve our own self-sufficiency, we need to consider the recent and highly positive development of advanced small modular reactors.”

A legislative hurdle: Choosing the nuclear option would require public and legislative buy-in. Hawaii currently has a law on its books forbidding the construction of a nuclear fission power plant without the approval of two-thirds of both houses of the state’s legislature.

“Embracing the nuclear option can help build a more sustainable and resilient Hawaii,” Wiencek said. “Renewable energy is a key part in the broader fight against climate change, and the fight is undermined without nuclear energy as part of the mix.”

Partnership with the DOD? Wiencek notes that the U.S. Navy has a proven track record of operating nuclear reactors safely aboard submarines, and that 12 of those submarines are based at Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor. The Department of Defense is looking into nuclear-powered mobile microreactors through Project Pele, and Wiencek believes Hawaii would be an ideal partner for the DOD.

“Department of Defense interest in SMR development can be turned into a broader positive for Hawaiian energy self-sufficiency and development,” Wiencek said. “Project Pele is an ongoing DOD effort to build self-sufficiency and sustainability into military bases and operations worldwide, reducing reliance on non-renewable energy sources. Hawaii’s importance in terms of strategic location in the Indo-Pacific, along with a strong defense presence, makes partnering with DOD a mutual win. A mutual partnership for SMR development in the state would help defray costs and bring in nuclear expertise."

Wiencek is employed as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy. He notes that the views expressed in his opinion piece are his own and do not represent the views of his employer.

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