Wake Up, Philippines!

Back to Bataan? (1)

Posted in Alternative Energy, Congress, Energy, Legislation by Erineus on February 27, 2009

(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the money-sucking history of the Bataan plant—to say nothing of safety concerns because of its dangerous location, outdated technology and suspect structural integrity—even studies on its rehabilitation and use like the ones now being proposed in Congress should be discouraged as a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.

Lowdown
Jojo Robles
Manila Standard Today

http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=jojoRobles_feb26_2009

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