The Manila Times
Thursday, January 29, 2009
By Giovanni Tapang,
Last week, Agham joined the
Committee on Energy of the House of Representatives for an ocular visit of
the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). The National Power Corp. (NPC) was
there in force to guide the visitors as well as local groups opposed to
the reopening of the plant. The recent bill filed in Congress to
recommission the nuclear plant in Morong has reopened the debate on its
safety, the economic viability of the rehabilitation of the 24-year-old
facility and its long-term sustainability.
While the proponents of the
move to recommission the plant are enthusiastic about the supposed
benefits of having a running nuclear facility, the economic, technical and
social aspects of the plant’s operation should be addressed fully and to
the satisfaction not only of the experts but of the nearby communities as
well before even considering turning on the plant.
Every pipe, every component,
equipment and systems has to be inspected by a competent independent team.
Each seal has to be tested if it is still viable and a thoroughgoing test
of the plant’s structural integrity should be done. The Korean Electric
Power Company (KEPCO) has volunteered to do a preliminary study on
reopening the plant since they operate a similar plant in South Korea.
However, leaving the
preliminary inspection to interested parties such as KEPCO is questionable
since they have an interest in pushing for the reopening of the plant. The
national government, according to the pending bill in Congress, would be
hiring foreign nationals to operate the plant in the absence of local
skilled workers and engineers. The study that KEPCO will make would also
be its foothold in the management contract that would follow the reopening
of the plant.
We should approach KEPCO’s
report in this light. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency in news
reports has cautioned the Philippines not to let “commercial interests
take precedence over safety issues” when considering the revival of
delayed nuclear plants.
Reopening the BNPP is supposed
to address a looming energy shortage in 2012 as well as the problem of
high electricity prices. Yet it is government’s refusal to shoulder the
cost of building new power plants and leaving this task to private
industry that is partly to blame. It has been the policy of this
government to sell power plants under the NPC following the Electric Power
Industry Reform Act (EPIRA). Instead of stabilizing our power supply, what
EPIRA has accomplished is to raise our electricity rates to around ten
pesos per kilowatt hour.
It is therefore interesting
that the Arroyo government and Congress can mull over providing funds to
reopen BNPP and yet continue to push for the privatization of other
plants. The proposed bill has listed ways how government can fund this
project: by raising power rates through a surcharge of 10 centavos imposed
on consumer bills or by entering into international or domestic loan
agreements. Despite the cap on a billion dollars for the combined
surcharge and loan, delays and interest repayments can drive this burden
The Philippines has many
available energy resources from hydropower, geothermal, natural gas, wind
and solar but these have been all put up for sale by the government to
private independent power producers. It seems that the government now
plans to run the BNPP only to ask foreign operators to take over it later.
Even the reality of the plant
being a solution to address climate change is being put into question by
some experts since the processed nuclear fuel has used embedded carbon in
its processing even before it has been used. According to a feature in
Nature Reports (doi:10.1038/climate.2008.99), the life cycle carbon
emissions of a nuclear plant can range from a low of 1.4 grams of carbon
dioxide equivalent per kWh produced up to a high of 288 grams. The article
points out that the reasonable average, 66 grams per kilowatt hour, is
still twice as much carbon than solar photovoltaic and six times as much
than the carbon emissions produced by wind farms.
Government must deal with the
genuine concerns of the community surrounding the BNPP as well as the
general public. As nuclear power is not without any risk, there should be
a serious evaluation as to the sustainability of operating the BNPP: how
the economic, technical and social factors add up and whether this will be
of genuine benefit to the people.
[Dr. Tapang, the national
chairperson of AGHAM, is a physicist at the National Institute of
Vol. XXII, No. 127
Thursday, January 29, 2009 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES
By Rene B. Azurin
Know the difference between a scientist and a politician? Ask a scientist
"what is 2 plus 2?" and the scientist unhesitatingly answers "4." Ask a
politician "what is 2 plus 2?" and the politician furtively looks around, leans
closer conspiratorially, then whispers out of the side of his mouth, "what do
you want it to be?" OK, OK, that’s an old joke, but maybe we should keep it in
mind when we hear a politician assuring one and all that the operation of the
controversial Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is perfectly safe.
The proponent of House Bill 4631 ("Mandating the immediate re-commissioning
and commercial operation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant") in the House of
Representatives, Rep. Mark Cojuangco, has been assuring all and sundry that the
operation of the mothballed nuclear plant is completely safe, saying that he
"would even take up residence in Morong (the town near where the plant is
located) to prove that there was no danger in operating the facility." He did
not say how this could constitute such proof.
week, Mr. Cojuangco was reported to have taken a group of his House colleagues
on an inspection tour of the Westinghouse-built 619 MW plant "to show that it
was still in good condition."
Mr. Cojuangco also served his colleagues some "scientific data" on the geology
of the location plus a lecture on radiation levels and nuclear technology.
Reportedly, 190 of his colleagues have already agreed to support his bill.
Let us set aside — for now — the fact that Mr. Cojuangco is the son of the
chairman of San Miguel Corporation, a conglomerate that has expressed interest
in taking over the BNPP as part of its strategic diversification into the power
business. San Miguel, it will be recalled, has also recently acquired major
shares in electric power distribution giant Meralco and oil refiner Petron. A
big power generation firm fits nicely in the apparent strategic scheme.
For now, let’s focus on the science. Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, professor emeritus
of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the University of
Illinois at Chicago and a balik-scientist who now teaches at the National
Institute of Geological Sciences of the University of the Philippines in
Diliman, says that those who are trying to justify the activation of the BNPP
have been guilty of "abusing scientific data." In particular, he says that Mr.
Cojuangco is "dangerously misrepresenting" the scientific data contained in a
paper authored by Dr. Joan Cabato, Dr. Fernando Siringan, and himself and in
another written by Dr. Ernesto Sonido and Mr. Jesse Umbal, both on the geology
of the BNPP site.
Dr. Rodolfo says that they were "dismayed to find that the explanatory note
to the bill cites our work as certifying the safety of the Bataan nuclear plant
site." He quotes from said note: "Top geologists have evaluated Bataan and, with
the exception of Mt. Natib which is a dormant volcano whose last eruption was
estimated to have been between 11.3 [and] 18 thousand years ago (Cabato et al.
2005) and which is ten kilometers (10 km) from the BNPP, could find no anomalies
in locating the plant there."
Dr. Rodolfo takes vigorous issue with Mr. Cojuangco’s statements and says,
first, that "the BNPP is not 10 kilometers away from Natib, it is on Natib,
which constitutes the entire northern half of the Bataan peninsula." Next, he
says that they did not estimate the age of Mt. Natib’s last eruption in their
paper. What he says they actually wrote was:
"A breach in the caldera of Mt. Natib is the most likely source of a presumed
pyroclastic deposit in the eastern bay that is associated with sediments about
11,300 to 18,000 years ago, indicating that a Natib eruption occurred much more
recently than previously documented for this volcano." Finally, further quoting
from their paper, he says that ".the youngest [faults] show that movements
occurred about every 2,000 years, most recently about 3,000 years ago." Thus,
concludes Dr. Rodolfo, "judging from the geologic evidence, Subic Bay is well
overdue for an episode of faulting and earthquakes."
As pointed out by Dr. Rodolfo, an exhaustive analysis of the geology and
geohazards of the Subic Bay area was made by Dr. Ernesto Sonido, formerly
geophysics professor of the National Institute of Geological Sciences at UP, and
Mr. Jesse Umbal, who obtained his masters’ degree at the University of Illinois
and worked with Dr. Rodolfo during the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. In their paper,
Dr. Sonido and Mr. Umbal adjudged Natib as "potentially active." They found Mt.
Natib, like Mt. Pinatubo, to be a "caldera-forming" volcano, a type which (Dr.
Rodolfo says), "characteristically, have very powerful eruptions separated by
long repose periods." The Sonido-Umbal study "documented two Natib eruptions
that formed large calderas and estimated the recurrence period for earthquakes
of Magnitude 6.4 to 7.0 at 22 years; of Magnitude 7.0 to 7.3 at 59 years; and of
Magnitude 7.3 to 8.2 at 157 years."
Dr. Rodolfo further stresses that none of the "top geologists" with an
intimate knowledge of Bataan has called Napot Point "safe." As an example, he
cites Dr. Ronnie Torres, formerly with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology
and Seismology and now at the University of Hawaii, who warned of volcanism and
faulting at the site in 1992: "Natib volcano does not erupt very often but could
still erupt." Says Dr. Rodolfo, "as a rough rule of thumb, the longer a volcano
is in repose, the more time it has to store eruptive energy".
"In short," charges Dr. Rodolfo, "our science is being abused by a person in
governmental authority, either deliberately or out of sheer geological
ignorance." That’s heavy.
Beyond geological considerations, there are other issues related to nuclear
power in general and the BNPP in particular. These include the risks of
operational accidents, the high toxicity of materials handled, the stringent
measures required to avoid radiation contamination of surrounding communities,
the danger of radioactive material being stolen and used by terrorist elements,
and the lack of a satisfactory solution for the final disposal of the tons of
radioactive waste created. All these are compounded by the absence of a safety
culture and the presence of a corruption culture in the country.
Obviously, serious questions on this matter need to be considered. But for us
the public, the question we must first answer is, whose answers should we listen
to? Those who represent science, or those who misrepresent it? Scientists or
politicians? Well, what do we want the answer to 2 plus 2 to be?
Group says RP has enough safe energy alternatives
FLORO TAGUINOD, GMANews.TV
01/27/2009 | 01:08 PM
BAYOMBONG, Philippines - After being declared unsafe for 30 years,
moves by both houses of congress to re-commission the Bataan Nuclear Power
Plant (BNPP) has met stiff opposition from the Church and environmental
watchdogs claiming that the plan will definitely imperil the country’s future.
Senate Bill No. 2665, or the proposed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant
Re-commissioning Act of 2008, is claimed "to revisit and utilize the nuclear
power option" to address global warming and the "shortfall in the electric
generating capacity of the country in 2012."
A counterpart proposal in the House of Representatives, House Bill 4631, "An
Act Mandating the Immediate Re-Commissioning and Commercial Operation of the
Bataan Nuclear Power Plant," was introduced by Rep. Mark Cojuangco last July.
Members of the Philippine Climate Watch Alliance (PCWA), who expressed
discontent over the government’s planned re-opening of the mothballed nuclear
plant, declared that there’s no need to endanger the lives of the people and
the environment since the country have enough sustainable energy resources
that can be tapped.
"We have more than enough resources like hydro, geothermal, wind, solar and
natural gas to meet our country's energy requirement and propel us to energy
independence. There is not one valid reason for us to resort to nuclear
energy," said PCWA spokesperson, Meggie Nolasco.
The group pointed out that the BNPP will not address global warming as its
"That the nuclear power plant will not emit greenhouse gases is a perverse
lie. In addition to uranium ore being non-renewable, large amounts of carbon
will be emitted due to the fuel that is needed to operate the plant," said
renowned geologist Kelvin Rodolfo.
According to PCWA, the re-commissioning will also uselessly spend needed funds
for real and meaningful solutions to climate change and energy crisis. The
construction and generating costs of nuclear power are far greater than most
renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies around the world.
Grease money works?
Environmental group Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment
(Kalikasan-PNE) also feared that grease money could be one of the factors why
the government is bent on pursuing the project.
"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," said
Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan-PNE.
"We just need to recall that Marcos and his cronies are estimated to have
gotten $80 million in kickbacks.
With the current administration, that is said to be the most corrupt and with
many scams already under her name, the BNPP will just be another racket at the
expense of the safety of our people and environment," Bautista said.
Believing that a nuclear plant is the answer to the worldwide energy crisis in
1973, former Philippine strongman President Ferdinand Marcos ordered the
construction of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in 1976 at an initial cost of
$600 million. When it was completed in 1984, the cost jacked up to $2.3
It was built near major earthquake fault lines and close to the then dormant
Following the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the United States,
construction on the BNPP was stopped, and a subsequent safety inquiry into the
plant revealed over 4,000 defects.
Even though the BNPP has never produced a single watt of electricity, the
Filipino people still paid a total of Php120 billion for principal and
interest since 1986, the same year when former President Corazon Aquino
declared BNPP unsafe.
Calls for the stoppage of the nuclear plant’s re-commissioning were earlier
brought forward by Balanga, Bataan Bishop Socrates Villegas and Manila
Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo who said that the plan would be met with
Villegas and Pabillo charged that the power plant poses undue risk to human
life with the Bataan prelate remarking that a mere congressional act cannot
make the BNPP safe.
Pabillo, who heads the Episcopal Commission on Social Action-Justice and Peace
of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, revealed that the
nuclear power plant’s geographical location sits at the foot of Mount Natib, a
potentially active volcano. - GMANews.TV