Amid the nuclear power crisis in Japan, a Hawaii lawmaker still says it would be “prudent” for the state to consider nuclear energy for the islands.

“I still think it’s prudent for us to take a look at whether nuclear energy is a viable option,” said Rep. Mark Takai, who introduced two bills this year related to exploring nuclear power. “In light of what’s happening in Japan, I think it’s a tremendous setback on the one hand. And when I say setback, I’m talking about public perception, how people view this technology.”

Takai told Civil Beat he believes outdated technology and safeguards complicated things at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plants.

“The problems there are that they’re older plants. The technology is very different now,” he said. “We’ll have to go through a vetting of what happened in Japan. They simply did not take into consideration a tsunami of this size. And as we move forward on researching this, considerable focus will have to be placed on what happened in Japan.”

In 2009 and again this year, Takai introduced a bill that would “direct the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism to develop a permitting process for nuclear energy generation facilities in Hawaii.” This year, he also introduced a softer measure that would set up a “nuclear energy commission” within DBEDT “to study the feasibility, risks, and benefits of developing nuclear energy generation facilities in Hawaii.”

The 2009 bill stalled after a joint hearing of the committees on Energy and Environmental Protection and Water, Land and Ocean Resources. This year’s bill didn’t get a hearing.

Takai, who says he drives a 100-percent electric car and powers his home with solar energy, said he thinks all sources of alternative energy should be looked at to help Hawaii move away from its dependence on fossil fuels.

“I’ve been criticized by some, but I’m interested in ensuring we can wean ourselves off of a resource that will end, and that whatever we do decide to do is safe for Hawaii,” he said.

Takai said he’s been researching nuclear energy for some time and believes there are safe ways to harness the technology.

“The type of technology I’ve been researching, I think it’s feasible and it’s nothing like the nuclear power plants in Japan,” he said. “It’s actually more compact and considerably smaller, so the footprint would be the size of a small building, or a small room for that matter.”

Hawaii’s constitution does not prohibit nuclear power plants. However it makes it all but impossible to build one here. Article XI, Section 8 of the Hawaii Constitution requires a two-thirds super-majority vote for the construction of any nuclear fission power plant or the disposal of any radioactive material in the state. The section was added during the 1978 Hawaii Constitutional Convention.

“Clearly there were concerns in 1978 regarding nuclear power because a super majority vote is quite rare,” Takai said. “However, because there’s no prohibition, I think they wanted to make sure that if we ever did decide to move in that direction, that we make extremely sure that it was the right thing to do.”

He acknowledges the topic is controversial and that the state is likely “decades” away from seriously considering nuclear energy.

“The question is if we can harness nuclear fission in a safe way,” he said. “If the answer is no, then we walk away.”

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