THE activation of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) can give the country cheap and consistent power in the years to come, according to a geologist at the University of the Philippines.
Dr. Carlos Arcilla, director of the UP National Institute of Geological Sciences (UP-NIGS), said the BNPP was just standing idly and should be used to mitigate the effects of a looming power shortage and to bring the price of electricity down, which is one of the highest in Asia.
“Let’s think of what we can do with the power that can be produced by the BNPP. I hate expensive electricity and I’d like to see cheap electricity in households where the members won’t have to worry about their electrical bills,” he said.
In arguing for the activation of the plant, Arcilla revisited the objections to the BNPP, mostly dealing with safety.
Arcilla said he conducted last month a study of the ground below the plant and found no active fault.
He said the BNPP was built on the “flanks” of Mt. Natib. Even assuming that Mt. Natib erupts, the country already has the instrumentation to predict an impending eruption and give enough time to shut down the plant.
“Is it (Mt. Natib) active? Potentially, yes. But within the 60 years during which the plant will operate, the risk of an eruption is very small. Even Phivolcs is not monitoring Mt. Natib,” Arcilla said.
On the design of the BNPP, Arcilla noted that there were “carbon copies” of the plant operating in Korea and Taiwan since the 1980s without any accident. He also said that nuclear plants were built to withstand earthquakes and that the BNPP was unscathed after the 1990 temblor.
He said the mothballing of the plant came as a reaction to the meltdown of the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine. But Arcilla said US-designed power plants were far safer than their Russian counterparts.
He pointed to the Three Mile Island meltdown, where no one died, as proof that safety systems in a plant were effective in controlling a meltdown. “Among all power sources, nuclear power has the lowest rate of accidents,” he said.
On a disposal site for nuclear waste, Arcilla pointed to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico as a model for disposal of nuclear waste.
Arcilla issued a challenge. “Give me one island out of our 7,000 and I can find ways to store nuclear waste safely in the Philippines. Storing nuclear waste can be safe because there will be levels of barrier protection systems.”
Besides, Arcilla said the technology to safely store nuclear waste had not been fully explored. “It’s because of the social acceptability. We have this attitude of ‘not in my backyard.’ But if you take that out, then definitely we can come up with better ways of storing waste. The technology is already there,” he said.
On the cost, Arcilla said the BNPP could pay itself off in seven years.
“Even if the BNPP were to produce only 620 megawatts of the perceived 3,000 MW shortage in the next few years, it’s still 620 MW. Expensive electricity leads to more poverty,” he said.
Arcilla said he had an “open mind” and was also advocating the use of other power sources, like geothermal, solar, and wind. But he said building geothermal plants was expensive and power from solar and wind sources was not consistent enough for the country’s needs.
“If there is proof that the site is not geologically safe or that the plant already has defects, I’ll be the first to say ‘Let’s forget all about it.’ I won’t accept a nuclear plant that is not vetted for safety,” the geologist said.
(First of two parts)
From time to time, we hear about attempts to rehabilitate and finally use the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. We also continue to hear reports that the end of the world is at hand, but that has happened yet, either.
Why some people insist upon trying to revive the BNPP instead of, say, putting up a new nuclear power plant from scratch somewhere else remains a mystery. Perhaps, to end this three-decade fixation on a plant that never produced a single watt of electricity despite the billions spent to build and pay for it, the government should just dismantle the facility immediately.
This is not a treatise against the use of nuclear energy to produce electricity. On the contrary, given our continued dependence on imported petroleum for our energy needs, any effort by the government to wean us from foreign oil and to add new power sources to our financially and environmentally unhealthy supply mix should be encouraged.
Any effort, that is, except the one to revive the BNPP. Given the money-sucking history of the Bataan plant—to say nothing of safety concerns because of its dangerous location, outdated technology and suspect structural integrity—even studies on its rehabilitation and use like the ones now being proposed in Congress should be discouraged as a waste of time, scarce resources and, yes, energy.
Indeed, the world over, nuclear energy is once again enjoying a revival. Thanks to the unpredictability of petroleum prices, the environmental dangers posed by burning oil and the dwindling of underground reserves, many countries have rediscovered nuclear power and are racing to build new power plants that use the fuel that once made Three Mile Island and Chernobyl household names.
In Asia, China is building eight new nuclear power plants with a combined output of 7,300 megawatts, while India is adding 2,700 MW to its mix by putting up five nuclear plants. Vietnam and Indonesia plan to add 4,000 MW each using new nuclear plants by 2020.
In a complete turnaround from its former environmentally incorrect image, nuclear power is now also being bandied about as the solution to global warming. The International Atomic Energy Agency says that 32 new nuclear power plants have to be built each year from now until 2050 to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half.
The key word—for the Philippines, at least—is “new.” And the BNPP is so old and very likely so obsolete that it could be compared to using a 50-year-old car to compete on a contemporary racetrack: an exercise that is costly, inefficient, dangerous and ultimately idiotic.
* * *
The latest proposal to revive the BNPP comes from Congress, where a bill to fund studies on the mothballed plant is undergoing deliberations. The proposed law authored by Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco seeks government funding for “complete technical, economic, environmental, and financial feasibility studies for electricity generation” using the plant.
Prior to that, in the teeth of last year’s upward spiraling of world oil prices, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes proposed allocating $800 million to put the 621-MW plant onstream, purportedly upon the recommendation of the IAEA. Then world oil prices plunged, and nothing further was heard about Reyes’ proposal.
True, the current Congress proposal seeks a mere P10 million for the creation of a task force that will conduct a feasibility study on the plant’s rehabilitation and use. Furthermore, Cojuangco said his bill institutes a “validation process” that will either affirm or reject the soundness of rehabilitating and using the mothballed plant, with a provision that the BNPP be immediately demolished should the validation show adverse findings.
Still, it’s not as if the viability of using the Bataan plant hasn’t been studied—and basically recommended for dismantling—before. And it definitely isn’t the first time that good money has been attempted to be thrown after all the bad that was sunk into the BNPP, which has entered the history books as the biggest single debt incurred by the Philippine government.
During a hearing on the Cojuangco proposal before the House appropriations committee, a former top consultant on the BNPP, Nicanor Perlas, disclosed that the Aquino administration commissioned a $9.5-million study conducted by 50 nuclear experts from different parts of the world which discovered that the plant had 40,000 defects. Perlas, a former technical consultant to both the Senate ad hoc committee on the BNPP and a presidential commission on the facility, said copies of the study are available at the Senate and Office of the President.
“The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant had four times the average [defects] for nuclear power plant construction. In addition, the earthquake and volcanic hazards of the site had never been satisfactorily resolved until today. It will be catastrophic, should the plant [be] operated,” Perlas told the congressman. But Cojuangco barred Perlas from further citing the Aquino-era study, saying he was merely spouting hearsay because neither he nor Congress had copies of the document.
In a statement distributed to reporters after the hearing, Perlas said the visiting experts concluded that the BNPP cannot be operated safely and efficiently. It appears that this study, on top of the Aquino administration’s aversion to any project from the previous Marcos era, provided the excuse not to use the power plant after its completion more than two decades ago.
However, even if it can be argued that the rehabilitation of the BNPP needs more study, the cost of getting the plant online after all these years is definitely prohibitive. And given the humongous amounts already spent for the Philippines’ all-time biggest white elephant, allocating even a peso more seems scandalous.
Manila Standard Today
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has thrown its weight behind the opposition to rehabilitating the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP).
In a pastoral statement, the CBCP urged Congress to “completely and irrevocably reject the opening of the nuclear plant as the most dangerous and expensive way to generate electricity.”
The statement was issued by the CBCP president, Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo.
“Multiple risks and the possibility of corruption outweigh dreamed benefits. We recommend with other anti-BNPP congressmen and the Greenpeace Forum that the mothballed facility in Morong, Bataan, be dismantled as its revival will be most hazardous to health and life of the people,” read the CBCP statement.
The power plant was built by the Marcos regime in response to the Middle East oil embargo in the 1970s.
The $2.3-billion project, designed to generate 621 megawatts of electricity, was scrapped by the Aquino administration in 1986.
The Diocese of Balanga headed by Bishop Socrates Villegas earlier in the week staged a prayer rally against plans by some congressmen led by Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco to rehabilitate the nuclear plant to stave off an energy crisis.
The CBCP also strongly opposed the use of a coal-fired power plant as source of energy in Iloilo province and other parts of the country.
“We recommend the implementation of the approved bill on the use of renewable energy, such as solar, wind and water as safe sources of electricity,” the CBCP said.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is in no rush to reactivate the nuclear power plant.
Malacañang Thursday said it would first await the study and series of consultations being done by the Department of Energy (DOE) before coming up with a firm position on whether to reopen the country’s only nuclear facility.
“The President will never compromise safety over speed,” Anthony Golez, deputy presidential spokesperson, told reporters in a briefing.
But Golez said that should the DOE study and consultations recommend reactivating the power plant, “then we would find no reason why we would have to delay.”
Asked if reopening the BNPP was a priority of Ms Arroyo, he said: “We know that her priority is that we should be energy-sufficient in the next few years.”
Golez said the government had “a lot of programs” to achieve this goal and that the BNPP was just one of them.
Last year, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said the government was seriously considering reopening the BNPP, noting that it had spent $2.3 billion to build the facility, which had generated not a kilowatt of electricity.
Reyes said a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had checked the facility and had pegged rehabilitation cost at $800 million for at least five years.
If it becomes operational, the BNPP will be one of the most dangerous nuclear power plants in the world, Greenpeace said Thursday.
The group said the BNPP, which has a light water reactor made by Westinghouse, did not conform to the current safety standards of the IAEA.
Beau Baconguis, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Campaigns Manager for the Philippines, said the design of the BNPP was not only outdated but also faulty.
The BNPP’s compliance to IAEA nuclear plant construction and site selection protocols were already in doubt even before the BNPP was finished, Baconguis said.
Tessa de Ryck, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Nuclear campaigner, also said the BNPP was never evaluated according to standards of the IAEA which were raised after the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown.
The standard for nuclear reactors is “Generation 3,” which has double containment for its reactor and passive safety systems, according to De Ryck. The BNPP has a “Generation 2” reactor.
“We cannot be sure whether the BNPP can be upgraded to meet current reactor standards,” De Ryck said.
She said Westinghouse reactors were “breaking down with alarming regularity” because of design defects, including cracks in the main steam turbines, deterioration of the steam generator tube, and the reactor pressure valve turning brittle.
De Ryck also cited problems of other nuclear plants designed by Westinghouse and similar to the BNPP in Brazil and South Korea, which were plagued by outages and leakages of radioactive water.
Study by experts
A study commissioned by the Senate ad hoc committee on the BNPP and the Presidential Commission on the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant found the nuclear plant defective.
Environmentalist Nicanor Perlas, a technical consultant to the study, said that the study showed that the BNPP could not be operated safely because of the defective quality assurance program.
Perlas, who was not allowed to discuss the study’s contents at the hearing in the House appropriations committee on Wednesday, said in a statement that the study was completed during the term of President Corazon Aquino. It cost $9.5 million and was conducted by 50 nuclear experts.
Perlas said the team found 40,000 defects and that it would cost $1.2 billion to $1.54 billion in 1990 rates to repair the plant. The repairs would take six and a half years.
Should the repairs be conducted, there was no guarantee that the BNPP would be safely operated because the quality assurance program was so problematic that the plant’s safety may never be established, Perlas said.
He also said James Keppler, a former official of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the review team found “pervasive and significant” defects in the plant’s design, construction, quality assurance and start-up testing.
“The identified deficiencies are so pervasive and severe that the plant cannot be expected to operate safely and without undue risk to public health and safety,” he quoted Keppler as saying.
Where’s the study?
Walden Bello, president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition, said he was appalled that those pushing for the reopening of the BNPP seemed to be unaware of studies that thumbed down the facility’s operation.
Cojuangco said he had made several attempts to get hold of the study that Perlas was referring to, but added no one had so far been able to produce one.
He asked Perlas to give the title of the study and inform the committee where it could be obtained. Reports from Dona Pazzibugan, Alcuin Papa Christian V. Esguerra and Leila B. Salaverria
That was a most compelling photo on the front page of Monday’s Philippine Daily Inquirer. Hundreds of people seated on the grassy grounds of the Sunken Garden in University of the Philippines, Diliman, forming the words “No to BNPP,” their graphic way of declaring their objections to the re-opening of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.
The measure is currently being debated in the House appropriations committee, after it passed the committee on energy headed by Rep. Mikey Arroyo. Main sponsor Rep. Mark Cojuangco has argued that the only way to stop climate change and achieve energy security in this country is through nuclear power.
Speaking of the human graphic, which the group helped organize, the Greenpeace Southeast Asia campaigns manager for the Philippines, Beau Baconguis, said it was “a statement of the people’s opposition to the revival of the BNPP. Congressman Cojuangco’s plans to ‘validate’ with the purpose of reviving, and commissioning, this nuclear plant is the height of irresponsibility and arrogance. The BNPP was mothballed for safety reasons which today still remain undisputed by any expert or study.”
* * *
And if anyone has reason to fear the presence of an operational nuclear power plant, that would be the people living near it, who would arguably be the first to feel the effects — including being killed — as a result of any accident, mishap or neglect involved in running the plant.
Yesterday, residents of Bataan, among them members of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy, took part in a rally against the plant’s reopening. The march and rally drew various sectors from all corners of Bataan, among them youth and parish delegations and civil society groups, converging at the Balanga Cathedral.
Among the invited speakers were Msgr. Tony Dumaual who was parish priest of Morong, Bataan, where the BNPP is located, in the 1970s when construction on the power plant began. Dr. Nicanor Perlas, who headed the presidential commission tasked to investigate the safety standards of the nuclear power plant in the 1980s, was also invited.
If the intent is to delay or reverse the effects of global warming, then reviving the BNPP makes little sense, avers Green Peace. Said Baconguis: “Our congressmen must face the simple, indisputable facts: 1) Nuclear power is the most dangerous way to generate electricity, there is also no known scientific solution to safely storing plutonium and its deadly radioactive waste-product which remains radiotoxic for 200,000 years; 2) it is the most expensive source of power: aside from pricey construction costs, nuclear power involves expenses for decommissioning, as well as storage for nuclear waste, each of which can cost as much as a new power plant; 3) it cannot solve climate change — the contribution it can potentially make is negligible, especially if you consider that the processing of uranium as fuel uses so much electricity; and 4) importing more fuel, in this case uranium, is not the way to achieve energy security.”
* * *
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has been quoted as saying that he “had always been pro-life” and that he would only support so-called “artificial methods” of family planning “as long as it will not destroy life.”
The Senate president was referring to recent developments in the ongoing committee deliberations on the Reproductive Health Bill, with the representative of the bishops angrily walking out of a recent technical working group meeting. The House version of the bill has already been reported out of committee but faces a very long queue of interpellators who are bent on wasting the time of legislators rather than shedding more light on the measure.
Enrile was perhaps referring to the contention of some conservative groups that some methods of contraception are actually “abortifacients,” that is, they induce abortion. There is a clash of opinion on this matter, based on one’s belief on when “life” begins. The religious right insists that life begins the moment sperm and egg meet. The scientific community, though, considers a pregnancy “viable” only when the fertilized ovum successfully implants itself in the wall of the uterus.
I find myself agreeing with the evidence-based argument, for there is no way a fertilized ovum can develop into a fetus unless it is first implanted in the mother’s womb. We must also contend with the large numbers of fertilized ova that do not develop further, most probably because they were “blighted” from the start. And what do we do about ectopic pregnancies, a condition that endangers the mother’s health when the fertilized ovum stops its journey to the uterus and remains in the fallopian tube?
A woman I met recently told me about the time she had an ectopic pregnancy and her doctor opted to wait until the zygote grew big enough to threaten her life before she was operated on. Was it part of the doctor’s “ethics” and “conscience” to put her patient in peril because of her qualms about excising “live” tissue?
* * *
But while conservative forces and their allies dither about the fate of fertilized ova, women are dying by the hundreds each year in this country as a result of getting pregnant or while giving birth. In a policy outlining new guidelines for maternal and newborn care, the Department of Health said one of the factors that put mothers and babies at risk is that of “having mistimed, unplanned, unwanted and unsupported pregnancy.” A healthy pregnancy and safe delivery actually begin with choice, with the free decision of a woman to get pregnant given her ability to look after herself and the baby sheltering in her womb.
But when policies withhold contraceptives from the women who most need these, then the policies could only result in more women “dying to give life.”