By Fred Hemmings – Hawaii and America can become energy self-sufficient, weaned from most fossil fuels, and enjoying affordable clean energy within a generation.

The United States Navy can lead the way by developing safe Small Modular Reactors known as SMRs. It is important to note that the United States military has been the source of many modern day, high tech resources, including the Internet. SMRs are generally defined as producing 250 megawatts (MW) of electricity or less that can be sequestered safely, even underground. SMRs are designed to easily shut down not melt down.

Two hundred fifty megawatts of electricity can provide enough electricity for thousands of homes. The United States Navy already operates the safest form of energy in the world, nuclear propelled submarines and ships. More people have died in one coal mine or oil rig accident than in all the history of nuclear energy in America. My proposal is to have the U.S. Navy utilize resources to build and deploy Energy Ships. The Navy does not have to endure the 10 year multimillion dollar plus expense of licensing from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In Hawaii the Department of Defense pays over $220 million annually to the local electric company. Unfortunately for the Hawaii’s citizens their electricity costs are 3 times the national average and our state is woefully over-dependent on fossil fuels.

Most of the military’s energy is consumed at Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor already has the highest concentration of SMRs in the world, they are called nuclear submarines. One 250 MW Energy Ship that I am proposing would generate enough electricity to power the military in Hawaii. At night excess capacity could energize ground transportation and if need be desalinate water. All this at no additional cost because nuclear energy is 24/7 firm capacity.

An Energy Ship could produce energy for decades. Besides affordable electricity an Energy Ship would also provide the military with base security and independence. At current electricity costs an Energy Ship would pay for itself quickly. Energy Ships could be easily deployed to bases around the world.

An Energy Ship would also become very handy when the Navy is involved in humanitarian missions. Electricity and clean water are usually in dire need after a natural disaster.

The United States Navy would prove once again that nuclear energy is the solution to our energy and environmental woes. Our nation and Hawaii then could follow the lead of the Navy to develop SMRs for civilian use.

I expect the naysayers will have a knee jerk negative reaction to my proposal. Facts and experience will provide evidence that emotion-based opposition is in error. This happened in the Eighties when the “just-say-no” crowd opposed geothermal energy on the Big Island which I vigorously supported. Some naysayers will also cite the State constitution as banning nuclear energy in Hawaii that is not true.

Most of the world’s existing nuclear plants are dinosaurs. They are large and if they go off line it creates a massive shortage of electricity. They need to be replaced. SMRs are the answer.

SMRs can be redundant and built incrementally without the multibillion capital costs of a large nuclear plant. Several SMRs at one site would also provide for redundancy. One SMR could be shut down for maintenance while the others continue to produce electricity. In Hawaii this could easily break up the dependency and inefficiencies of the massive distribution system of Hawaii’s monopolistic electric company. Local independent energy production with inter-connections could be a reality.  Remember even currently popular natural gas is a fossil fuel.

In addition by not having to depend on less than friendly nations for imported oil Hawaii and our nation would be more secure. Abundant affordable electricity would also put the American automobile industry on the fast track to develop electric cars. That would put America back in the driver’s seat of the global automotive industry.

Enlightened thinkers see the wisdom in SMRs because SMRs would solve the carbon emission problem. Yes wind and solar power are great but they are expensive and not firm capacity. Safe Nuclear energy is cheaper than wind and solar and is reliable. Most of the nation of France’s energy comes from nuclear generation and France recycles approximately 80% of their nuclear waste. The day will come when spent nuclear fuel can be recycled or neutralized.

Do you remember the first cell phones? They were the size of a soda bottle. Now look at them. Economies of scale provided the resources for massive development of “smart phones” That same formula would be true for the future of nuclear energy.

I foresee the day when individual neighborhoods and large buildings will have totally sealed and safe SMRs for generation of all of their electricity. They would last for a long time and would simply be replaced rather than refueled. These SMRs would be small and self-contained.

All of this can begin with the United States Navy creating Energy Ships for deployment sooner than later. The boldness and genius of American enterprise can help lead the world to abundant, clean and safe energy.

Fred Hemmings, a Hawaii State Senator from 2000 to 2010, is a proponent for energy independence and sustainability.