Will TMT use nuclear power?

I truly cannot believe I am writing this. But the question is getting asked over and over on social media. The claim that TMT will use some for of nuclear power is apparently believed in some parts of the protest community.

TMT Cross Section
A cross section rendering of the TMT observatory

What will power TMT? HELCO

TMT will draw power from the local power grid like every other telescope. There is an underground power line run up the side of the mauna from the cross island transmission line in the Saddle.

While most of the telescopes have backup diesel generators, these are simply backups, it is far cheaper to just buy power from HELCO like everyone else on the island. Be very glad you do not get Keck or Gemini’s power bill, HELCO loves the observatories.

There is some solar capability as well used to offset those HELCO power bills. Gemini recently installed solar panels at the summit, Keck will be doing the same soon. Keck also has substantial solar capacity at the HQ building in Waimea.

At least some folks in the protest community are skeptical of the nuclear claim as well, coming to the pro-TMT groups and asking to verify the claim. This keeps showing up so often there must be a reasonable number of folks who believe it and keep posting it.

This post by Imua Keaulani is the earliest version of the claim I can find online, it may be the original. The use of emoticons here is also original.

Does anyone know why or what the real issues are that the Hawaiians have with the construction 🏗 of the 🔭 on Mauna Kea ? Well what if you knew that the reason why they want to build the telescope there is because under that 🏔 there is the hugest water duct on the island , it’s so huge it could provide fresh 💧 to the whole island for hundreds of years , well in order to run those 🔭 they need to be cooled because of the nuclear power it runs on so they’re going to drill down to the water and send down the nuclear waste into the water to cool it off then send it back up to the telescope to keep it running. Now imaging all that fresh ice cold water that we have just sitting there for us and instead of allowing us access to free freshwater for life they want to pump nuclear waste into just so they can look into a machine that can see across the universe!

Imua Keaulani, Facebook Post, 18July2019

Uh? Sure. This is so bad that you wonder if it a complete parody, just written by a troll looking to see if they can get folks to believe something wilder yet. The issue is that more than a few people seem to believe it based in the many comments. This post had 246 Facebook shares when I found it last week, probably far more now. Variants of the myth a showing up commonly on several social media platforms.

In reading you can see part of the myth uses a claim that the water table will be used to cool the nuclear reactor and contaminate the aquifer with nuclear waste. Why would anyone even consider this? This is simply an attempt to smear the TMT project with the worst possible lie.

No, there is no nuclear reactor planned, there is not even an aquifer in the mauna like that described.

Result: Completely False

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

4 thoughts on “Will TMT use nuclear power?”

  1. Thank you for answering this one Mr. Cooper. Id had multiple people ask me about this and couldnt say anything because there was no mention of anything nuclear involved with TMT and i wasnt finding a source saying what the definite power supply would be instead. I wanted to be safe and not use the absence of information as my arguement.

    Im very appreciative of the work youre doing to displace rumors being used in this issue. The nuclear power and the derelict telescopes have been the two most used around me.

  2. I found this page by doing a google search on “Mauna Kea telescope nuclear power” after seeing the exact FB post from Imua Keaulani you show here, because it’s just… well, extremely hard to believe on a variety of levels.

    I’d not heard much about this controversy at all, this was a good excuse to go reading around the issue. I think a lot of the people forwarding that post (very far from Hawaii, I might add) are coming from a well-meaning place of concern for indigenous rights (frequently just in the wide general sense, because again it’s people very far away), but aren’t thinking critically and don’t have much background around nuclear power. There are a lot of interesting actual issues in debate over this project and history of land use, and it’s unfortunate if this type of false claims get a life of their own, it does neither “side” any favors. Such is the nature of social media, I suppose.

    Anyway, just thought I’d let you know, someone has found this, thanks for writing it.

  3. TMT International said they would use nuclear power. They guarantee no nuclear waste will seep out and contaminate the fresh water, as it is impossible. It cannot happen. They will truck nuclear waste to the nearest nuclear waste facility. Of course “trucking” it would be difficult, as the nearest facility that can hold that large amount of waste does not exist in Hawaii.

    1. No they have not. I suspect you are repeating something you have been told or read elsewhere. I suggest you read the EIS, it goes through these issues rather thoroughly.

      Thank you for showing just how these sort of lies can spread and harm honest conversation of the issues.

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