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.