Wake Up, Philippines!

MOTHBALLED NUKE PLANT: Debate heats up anew over BNPP revival

Posted in BNPP, Congress, Energy, Legislation, Social Issues/Concerns by Erineus on February 3, 2009

MANILA, Philippines—The arguments had been heard before like a broken record.

They were raised again on Monday as Congress began debates on a bill that seeks to revive, at the cost of another $1 billion, the $2.3-billion Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) mothballed over two decades ago.

First, said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and geologist Kelvin Rodolfo, comprehensive studies on the safety, technical and financial aspects of the plant should be made by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

They said at the hearing of the House committee on appropriations that the bill initiated by Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco was premature.

“There should be a study of the site, led by Phivolcs, a study by geologists with no conflict of interest,” said Rodolfo, a professor at University of Illinois and University of the Philippines.

Rodolfo said the location of the plant was “geologically dangerous.”

“Bataan and the entire Philippines are too tectonically and volcanically active,” he said.

He said the Phivolcs had not examined the safety of the region. He added that just because nothing happened to the plant during the powerful earthquake that hit Luzon in 1990 did not mean that the plant was safe, pointing out it was not operational at the time.

Rodolfo pointed out that the plant was close to Mt. Natib, a dormant volcano that has the possibility of erupting.

If proponents of the nuclear plant say the country is wrong to rely on Saudi oil, then it is also not right for the Philippines to rely on foreign sources for uranium, he said.

“There is only so much uranium in the world. It is depleted rapidly,” Rodolfo said.

Lagman said he had not seen a feasibility study on the project and suggested that the Cojuangco bill be transformed into one that would undertake a thorough review of the plant that would show that objections before could be surmounted.

Among those who countered Cojuangco’s proposals were Greenpeace, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, professor Giovanni Tapang and engineer Roberto Verzola.

Cost likely to go up

Etta Rosales of the Freedom from Debt Coalition questioned the projected $1-billion cost for the plant’s rehabilitation, saying the amount was likely to balloon to meet technical and safety demands, not to mention the costs of corruption.

Construction of the plant began in 1976, in the aftermath of the first Middle East oil embargo. The original cost was $500 million, but it ballooned to $2.3 billion by the time it was completed in 1984 under the regime of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Following the ouster of Marcos in the 1986 People Power Revolution and apprehensions caused by the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in the Soviet Union in the spring of that year, the Corazon Aquino administration closed the plant. It also sued Westinghouse for overpricing and bribery, but a US court threw out the suit.

The debt on the plant, the country’s largest single obligation, was finally paid in April 2007, but the 620-megawatt facility with its nuclear reactor intact never generated a single watt of electricity. An earlier study revealed that the plant had over 2,000 defects.

Carlos Arcilla, a University of the Philippines professor and director of the National Institute of Geological Sciences, said that there had been no evidence in the past 20 years that there was a fault in the plant’s vicinity.

Not a nuclear bomb

“A nuclear plant is not a nuclear bomb. There’s no fear the nuclear plant will become a nuclear bomb,” Arcilla said.

Cojuangco argued that there was a pressing need to recommission the BNPP because of the looming power shortage by 2012 would result in 24-hour brownouts in Metro Manila and result in great economic dislocation.

Getting the BNPP up and running would also translate to lower power costs. At present, he said, the high price of electricity has been repelling investors.

As for the safety concerns, Cojuangco said that if the BNPP were rehabilitated to its original specifications, “it is a safe plant according to current international atomic standards of the power generating industry.”

Cojuangco said that South Korea and Japan had several power plants, and Japan had many fault lines at that. “If it’s OK in Japan, why would it not be OK in the Philippines?”

Ramon Pedrosa, chair emeritus of the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said he regretted working for the shuttering of the BNPP and was now supporting its recommissioning.

“For 22 years, we’re paying the high price for not using the BNPP … let this be the start of a true sovereign energy program,” Pedrosa said.

‘Faulty economics’

Around 30 members of the environment group Greenpeace massed outside Congress carrying an 8-foot-tall tombstone on which was written “R.I.P. BNPP” and denouncing the project as “grotesquely expensive and based on faulty economics.”

Von Hernandez, Greenpeace Southeast Asia executive director, called the Cojuangco bill a “farce.”

Hernandez explained that the program may include the “possible commissioning of subsequent nuclear plants to justify the program’s existence. This presents a “greater and sustained drain on the country’s financial resources on top of the upfront cost of the BNPP rehabilitation itself.”

“The overwhelming safety and security reasons behind why the BNPP was mothballed remain just as valid and unassailable today. Our lawmakers should heed reason and let the BNPP rest in peace,” said Greenpeace campaigner Amalie Obusan.

In Balanga City, some 100 farmers, fishermen and students also marched Monday on the provincial capitol, demanding that Bataan officials reject the program. With reports from Amy R. Remo in Manila; and Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon; Agence France-Presse