Militant organizations in Central Luzon, Catholic Bishops, environmental groups, and scientists are one in saying that the planned revival of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is costly and unsafe. They surmise that the nuclear power plant, from which the former dictator Marcos and his cronies earned $80 million in kickbacks, is being revived to become another source of corruption.
BY RONALYN V. OLEA
Activists are gearing up for protests against the planned revival of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP).
In a telephone interview, Roman Polintan, chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in Central Luzon, said they would launch a massive campaign against the proposed reopening of the BNPP.
In July last year, Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco filed the bill titled “Bataan Nuclear Power Plant Commissioning Act of 2008”. The bill has already been approved by the Energy Committee and is now pending in the Appropriations Committee. It has already gained 190 signatures in the House.
In December 2008, the Department of Energy through the National Power Corporation signed a memorandum of agreement with the Korea Electric Power Corp (Kepco) to conduct a feasibility study on the possible revival of the BNPP.
A Westinghouse light water reactor, it was designed to produce 621 megawatts of electricity.
The BNPP was a project of former President Ferdinand Marcos. The BNPP construction began in 1976 and was completed in 1984 at a cost of $2.3 billion. The nuclear plant is located at the foot of Mt. Natib in Morong, Bataan. Marcos was toppled in 1986. The succeeding administration of Corazon Aquino decided not to operate the plant after citing 4,000 defects in its design and construction.
However, former President Aquino, rejecting the call of various sectors not to pay the BNPP loan because it is considered as onerous, stood pat in her decision to pay the loan. The succeeding administrations of Ramos, Estrada, and Arroyo likewise were adamant in paying the loan for the mothballed BNPP. The loan, amounting to P120 billion ($2,532,179,784 at the current exchange rate of $1=P47.39) including the principal and interest, was fully paid by April 2007
Polintan said that the BNPP is unacceptable to the people of Central Luzon. “It is not the ordinary people who will benefit from it but the foreign business corporations and their local partners.”
The activist leader joined the mammoth protests against the BNPP in the ’80s.
Polintan recalled, “Tens of thousands of residents of Bataan and nearby provinces joined the welgang bayan (people’s strike) against the BNPP.”
He added, “People would come out from their houses to join the protests.”
“We call on the people of Central Luzon to once again act in unison and raise their voices to thwart this move [revival of BNPP].” Polintan said.
Polintan welcomed the statements of Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Balanga Bishop Socrates Villegas and Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo. Polintan said they plan to get the support of other Church leaders in the region.
Polintan said Cojuangco’s proposal is “courting disaster”, stressing that the operation of the power plant poses grave danger to life and environment, and is unacceptable to the people of Central Luzon.
Noting that the plant sits right on an active volcano, Polintan warned that any seismic activity might cause it to explode.
Polintan’s claim is supported by scientists who categorized Mt. Natib as “potentially active.” In their paper, Dr. Ernesto Sonido, formerly geophysics professor of the National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS) at the University of the Philippines, and Mr. Jesse Umbal, who obtained his masters’ degree at the University of Illinois found Mt. Natib to be a “caldera-forming” volcano, a type which “characteristically has very powerful eruptions separated by long repose periods.”
Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, a professor at the NIGS in UP Diliman said, “Natib volcano does not erupt very often but could still erupt. As a rough rule of thumb, the longer a volcano is in repose, the more time it has to store eruptive energy.”
Polintan said, “We will not allow a Three Mile Island or a Chernobyl disaster to happen in the Philippines, particularly in Central Luzon.”
The Three Mile Island accident occurred on March 28, 1979 at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania, United States. An estimated 43,000 curies of radioactive krypton were released when the pilot-operated relief valve did not close when the pressure on the primary system decreased. Although no deaths or injuries resulted, it is considered as the most serious accident in US commercial nuclear power plant operating history.
The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear reactor accident in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Soviet Union. It resulted in a severe release of radioactive elements into the environment. The overall cost of the disaster is estimated at $200 billion.
Polintan added that the BNPP suffers from a grossly defective design made worse by the ravages of time.
In 1979, a commission created by then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos conducted an investigation on all issues surrounding the construction of the BNPP. The findings of the commission revealed that the power plant had an old design plagued with unresolved safety issues.
Polintan said further it is a “folly to try to revive the mothballed plant when nuclear power generation is already being discarded all over the world because it is an extremely hazardous and outmoded technology.”
Greenpeace asserts that nuclear plants are grotesquely capital intensive and expensive at almost all stages of its development. Historically, it said, nuclear construction projects consistently run over budget, so even the $1 Billion projected cost for BNPP’s rehabilitation could be exceeded.
The group further said, “The plant would also make the country dependent on imported uranium, a resource found only in a few countries. There are further costs for spent fuel storage and security, and should an accident occur, massive costs for evacuation, relocation of communities, health costs, aside from the repair of the plant and the rehabilitation of surroundings would be incurred. From previous experience of nuclear disasters, these costs amount to hundreds of billions of dollars spent for a period of decades.”
Greenpeace Southeast Asia Executive Director Von Hernandez said, “Nuclear energy is not clean, not safe and not cheap. In fact, it is probably the most dangerous and expensive power source there is. To say otherwise is to endorse patent falsehoods for the benefit of the nuclear industry.”
Source of corruption?
Bautista said, “The most probable reason why the Arroyo government, particularly the Department of Energy, is reviving the nuclear option is that it is a multibillion dollar project where fat and grease money will come in from foreign energy corporations and international financial institutions.”
Bautista recalled that Marcos and his cronies are estimated to have gotten $80 million in kickbacks from the BNPP. He said that with the current administration, perceived to be the most corrupt, the BNPP would just be another source of corruption.
The Aquino government sued Westinghouse for overpricing and bribery but ultimately lost the case in a United States court.
San Miguel Corp., which is being managed by Cojuangco’s father, has already expressed interest in taking over the BNPP. The food and beverage conglomerate is diversifying into power generation.
Not the solution to the energy crisis
Dr. Giovanni Tapang, chairperson of progressive scientists group AGHAM said the BNPP is not the apt solution to the country’s energy problems.
Tapang said there is no question regarding the need to be energy independent. He added the government must harness the indigenous and sustainable energy resources such as hydro, geothermal, solar, wind, natural gas and oil to provide for the country’s needs.
He said however that these energy resources have been all put to sale by the government to private independent power producers (IPPs). “Instead of looking at nuclear power to provide cheap energy, President Arroyo only has to realize that most of the energy resources she has auctioned off could have provided the Philippines cheap and renewable energy,” said Tapang.
The scientist said, “…[A]s long as the Arroyo government continues to auction and privatize the country’s energy facilities and resources to private and foreign companies, like what they are doing with BNPP and other power plants, the problem on energy will remain.”