Danny De Gracia: Now Is The Time For Hawaii To Prepare For A Fusion-Powered Future - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Opinion article badgeIf you haven’t seen it yet, Michael J. Medler of Western Washington University has a must-watch TEDx talk called “How fire and lava may have made us who we are.”

Ancient hominids, Medler argues, would never have been able to evolve into modern humans without fire to warm them or to provide ample nutrition for brain development.

Mastery of fire is what makes humans different from all other organisms on this planet. Fire is humanity’s first breakthrough technology, and without fire, none of the civilized world around us — or the people in it for that matter — would be possible. Fire is power, and power forges and makes all the tools of mankind work. We are, whether we like it or not, a fire people.

Last week, when scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced that they had successfully made a breakthrough in fusion technology, mankind unlocked an even greater form of fire. For the very first time, a successful fusion reaction in a laboratory has occurred that produced more energy than it took to initiate.

From this day forward, everything changes. Fusion, once fully realized as a power source, has the potential to allow us to meet our net-zero emissions goals without plastering over the natural landscape with miles of solar panels or impaling hills with hundreds of wind turbines.

Fusion reactors, unlike fission reactors, also produce shorter-lived radioactive byproducts, so they are safer and cleaner than current nuclear-powered reactors that are controversial and terrifying to some.

Once we fully harness fusion technology, we can purify more drinking water, grow more food, make more powerful computers, and yes, most exciting of all, we can finally send humans to other planets or even other stars. Fusion is the power of the universe itself, and by tapping into it, we can evolve to a much higher form of humankind, just like ancient hominids evolved into Homo sapiens through their use of fire technology.

Big Ideas Need Big Legislative Thinking

So, all this being said, we need to start thinking ahead and preparing for the dawn of commercial fusion technology in Hawaii. One of the very first things that the incoming Legislature should do is seize this moment by creating the legal provisions and funding mechanisms to provide for future fusion reactors. We need to act now to be ready tomorrow.

At present, the Hawaii Constitution states, “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.”

HECO HEI Hawaiian Electric power plant located along Ala Moana Boulevard.
Fusion could eliminate the need for energy solutions with unacceptable trade offs. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

While we are somewhat spared by the fact that this section specifically says “nuclear fission,” the next part, “or radioactive material disposed of” could still be so broadly interpreted to prevent future fusion reactors — which are not the same — from ever being built in Hawaii.

And with all due respect, we don’t have a Legislature comprised of nuclear physicists or engineers, so you might as well assume knee-jerk fear, ignorance and lack of forward thinking will have every future Legislature voting “no” if ever put to a two-thirds vote.

We need to start thinking about changing it now, because the gears of local politics spin so slowly that if we don’t spin them up now, we’ll never get around to it.

Hawaii needs to see this moment for what it is and see how fusion power can make many of our local supply-and-demand challenges irrelevant.

The Legislature should begin by creating a Future Fusion Task Force. This task force should avoid tapping the usual suspects of radical nonprofit activist groups, big financial interests, development interests and insurance interests — you know, the people who block everything, except the pricey things carved out only for themselves — and be comprised exclusively of the most esteemed academics, scientists and futurists.

The task force’s duties should involve studying the possibility of amending the state constitution to include provisions to allow for fusion-powered reactors; evaluating potential sites that could be reserved for fusion reactors; and most importantly, determining how the state can help accelerate the progress of fusion development. If they have positive recommendations, then the Legislature can use that as their evidence-based justification to move forward with new enabling legislation.

I don’t believe that we will be waiting very long for viable fusion technology to become available on a commercial basis. There are times in our human technological development when we hit a springboard that leapfrogs us higher, faster and farther than we’ve ever gone before.

The invention of the airplane, the development of atomic power and the perfection of the solid-state transistor are all examples of how one development led to a rapid succession of new developments in a short time. Hawaii needs to see this moment for what it is and see how fusion power can make many of our local supply-and-demand challenges irrelevant.

Don’t be afraid to dare greatly. Fear paralyzes, but faith is what gives us the power to do things that we couldn’t do before.

We need to dream big for Hawaii and recognize that the only future we will ever have is the one that we start building – and preparing for – right now.

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

Fusion is nothing that we, nor our children's, children will have to worry about. It is so far off that there are many other issues we will need to get through before this one comes before a legislature, if there even is one 100 years down the road. And of course this is Hawaii, so we will surely be the last to innovate anyway. Someone said it already, why aren't we looking at volcanic (ie: geothermal) means to produce our electrical needs now? There's something immediate to be progressive about.

wailani1961 · 4 weeks ago

Fusion is indeed the only energy source that is physically capable of powering a vibrant human civilization on the timescales of a thousand years from now and beyond, by which time commercially accessible uranium and thorium deposits will all be extracted and consumed via the most efficient semi-closed nuclear fuel breeding cycles. As this point, we are many decades and trillions of R&D dollars away of harnessing fusion power. The recent news from the Lawrence Livermore National may have been a breakthrough for the National Ignition Facility, technologically amazing but beleaguered in terms of its meager science output. However, this news is a "nothing burger" in the bigger scheme of things: to truly produce more energy than taken from the grid, NIF's D+T to He conversion efficiency would need to go up by another factor of 50 or so; if this (true) breakthrough were to be achieved, the other huge obstacles to be overcome would be making enough tritium for the fusion fuel mix, inventing materials for fusion reactor walls that can withstand the neutron flux, and figuring out how to increase the implosion rate from the current one per day to at least a few per minute.

Chiquita · 1 month ago

I am really surprised that with all the smart ideas people come up with, taking energy from the volcanoes is not one of them? How long did it take to get wind and solar energy? Fire is very powerful, so how come this has not been considered yet ...on another note, there should be a law that you can't use your A/C when the temperature drop to 69 degrees ...my temporary new neighbors have their A/C on all day and all night ...may be they should be in a cooler climate!

EVADCMAUI · 1 month ago

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