CBCP rejects nuclear power plant revival
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