Now that the Mindanao power situation is on the verge of becoming a nationwide crisis, it looks like the issue of what to do with the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) will again be thrust into the spotlight.
Your usual protesting militant and activist groups will say that health concerns, the unsafe technical and geographical conditions under which the plant operate, and the fact that it is a product of Marcos regime corruption, warrant any initiative to reconsider its operation unacceptable. I say we throw these groups into the furnaces of the coal-fired plants we currently use, or submerge all their heads underneath the waters which we use for our hydroelectric power plants.
The Filipino opposition to nuclear power is found wanting, because we never even tried to harness it. If we are going to oppose the use of nuclear power here in the Philippines, we better have the right reasons for it, and we do: the Filipino is too immature, too lazy, and too stupid to handle such a complicated energy source. The biggest challenge for the Philippines in effectively harnessing nuclear power for our energy needs is for its people to overcome the character flaws which will prove fatal not just for the entire country, but wherever the radiation stemming from any accident will spread.
Let us briefly mention five (5) of those character flaws below:
Pwede-na-yan mentality – the operation of nuclear plants has strict guidelines that must be followed to the letter if we want to avoid any man-made catastrophes from happening. Insufficient practices of dealing with nuclear residue will be an example.
Aversion to following regulations – We all know this: Filipinos hate being inconvenienced into following rules. Then suddenly we complain about why things turn out for the worse. We can bet that Filipinos will not follow proper decontamination and sterilization procedures.
Aversion to risk taking – Filipinos are not inclined to take risks although they display the bahala na mentality. This is why any movement for development in the Philippines is stopped immediately, and why the problems that started plaguing us 30 years ago are the same ones today.
Aversion to constant upkeep – the idea of preventive maintenance is poison for the Filipino. The tendency is to abuse an item until it breaks, then complain that it was defective. How shallow and stupid can Filipinos get!
Lethargic response to emergency situations – the Philippine government is notorious for this. If they manage to botch responses to typhoons and earthquakes, do we actually think that they are going to be able to handle a nuclear meltdown, and the containment of radiation and leaking gases?
Although the risks of nuclear power cannot be overstated, the efficiency, environment-friendliness, and potential for cost-saving warrant it sufficient interest. Of course, as GRP writer Ben Kritz has pointed out, it is an arduous process to develop and maintain this resource.
The decision to stop operation of the BNPP due to the incidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima is not an excuse. The Chernobyl incident happened primarily because of negligence on part of the operators, and because of the inherent design flaws of the Generation II RBMK reactor which were in use at that time. Read more about the Chernobyl disaster and the RBMK reactor, respectively.
The Fukushima incident indeed will forever remind us of the dangers of having nuclear reactors within the Pacific ring of fire, and in an area that experiences earthquakes frequently, no less. Yes, the Japanese were less than forthcoming about the actual severity of their situation. Yet they took the risk, and they benefited from it for about 40 years. Although the Japanese were prepared to withstand the magnitude 9 earthquake, the 30-foot tsunami that accompanied it proved too much. So what happened was the 1 in several thousand chances of failure. In short, what happened was completely out of their control.
The Philippines is indeed also part of the Ring of Fire, but compared to Japan we experience much fewer earthquakes and lesser in magnitude. The BNPP houses a light water reactor (LWR), particularly a pressurized water reactor (PWR), so therefore it would not have suffered from the problems found in Chernobyl RBMK reactors. The PWR is also much safer than the boiling water reactor (BWR) found in the Fukushima plant. It is designed to generate 621 MWe of electricity, which is a big help in addressing our ever ballooning energy demand. The concern of any effect of seismic activity is addressed by the fact that it is situated 18m above sea level. In contrast, the Fukushima plant was lowered to 10m from the original height of 35m, but they did not take into account the effect of tsunamis on the plant.
It is my educated guess that for every 9 out of 10, if a nuclear incident were to happen at BNPP, it would be attributed to Filipino mediocrity and stupidity.
Let us make things clear: the problems besetting the construction of BNPP were not instigated by Cory Aquino. The project was already plagued by corruption on both sides (Philippine Government and Westinghouse) even during the time of Marcos. We could have had two (2) nuclear reactors instead of just one for a total cost of $650 million. Yet the meddling of Marcos crony Herminio Disini gave the project to Westinghouse instead of GE, who allegedly had the cheaper and more technically sound proposal. Then suddenly things went downhill from there: the deal included now just one (1) nuclear reactor, and the total project cost ballooned to $1.1 billion.
“It was believed that the ever ballooning price of the project was attributed to Marcos’s demand for huge kickback in order to accommodate Disini and other cronies and anyone queued up.”
“When Marcos assembled his own experts several months later, they found that the design was unsafe and recommended changes to incorporate new safety features after the Three Mile Island. This proved to be rather costly when Westinghouse renegotiated the contract to meet the objections. The price rose to $1.8 billion – $55 million for added safety equipment, $645 million for higher interest costs and inflation, and finally, the eventual cost reached a whopping $2.2 billion. Work on the project was completed in 1984, which was about the same time Disini’s business empire suddenly collapsed.”
If this sound bite is authentic, then the reason Cory wanted to mothball the BNPP project was that it would forever remind the people of the bad things associated with the Marcos era. Back then people could have said that Marcos was just being a whiner. In the current era, however, Marcos’ assertion is now debatable, up notches from downright disgusting. History has clearly shown what happened after the Marcos government was ousted. He was actually right; patuloy na bumagsak ang Pilipinas (the Philippines started and continued a downward trend).
Since the government is adamant on their stand not to use the plant for power generation in the meantime, the next best thing to do was apparently, turn it into a tourist site. Ang Pinoy nga naman, eh no. Now they are considering converting it into the conventional LNG or coal-fired plant. Your guess is as good as mine as to why that is. It would only help the vested interests of their oligarch friends.
Especially with the current government, I understand in a way why governments after Marcos did not want to revive the BNPP. Most especially for the Aquinos, it would be an epic slap in the face for them and their oligarch friends to use something that Marcos had the foresight to plan. They didn’t want to turn off the minds of their “enlightened” voter/consumer base now, did they?
The flow of history has provided all the presidents who succeeded Marcos ample opportunity for the Philippines to step up and show the world that it could learn from the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear incidents. Yet true to form, all of them allowed themselves to be overtaken by panic, fear, doubt, stupidity, and the influence of their self-serving oligarch friends. This is why the Philippines remains in the dark, literally and figuratively. Because of the failure of five (5) presidencies to actually realize this potential solution to our energy problems, we remain Asia’s basketcase.
BNPP costs money but does not produce power
PSME study on BNPP
Using Nuclear Energy: A Philippine Experience
BNPP safer than Fukushima Plant
ABS-CBN timeline for nuclear power in the Philippines
A general study for conversions of the Bataan Nuclear Power Stations
Options for BNPP conversion to fossil fuel firing
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