‘Bataan nuke plant revival entails geological hazards’
◢ Jose Martin V. Singh
Scientists from Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM) warn of the dangers of reviving the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) in response to a deal forged between the Department of Energy (DoE) and Russian State Atomic Energy Corp. during the ASEAN summit.
The deal involves the study of nuclear energy as power source, including a proposal to possibly re-operate BNPP and build new nuclear power plants in the country.
Built in 1984 during the Marcos regime, BNPP was closed in 1986 during Corazon Aquino’s presidency.
BNPP is located beside Mt. Natib, a “potentially active” volcano, thus entailing a great risk in the plant’s operation, said AGHAM Secretary-General Finesa Cosico, citing a geological hazards study by Dr. Kelvin S. Rodolfo and company.
“Based on the detailed fieldwork of [Rodolfo’s] study, the volcanic hazards can pose as a threat to the nuclear reactor facility,” said Cosico.
Potentially active volcanoes have no recorded eruptions in recent history but are capable of erupting.
“Commissioning BNPP represents the greatest single threat to the safety of the Filipino people, all because of the mindless greed of a few,” said Rodolfo in an e-mail to the Collegian. Rodolfo is a Professor Emeritus of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, Chicago and a Senior Research Fellow at the Manila Observatory.
“The natural dangers are being greatly compounded by nuclear proponents of great influence who know little geology,” Rodolfo said in the 2016 revision of his study, which was first written in 2010.
“They select ‘facts’ that defend the safety of the plant site, and ignore ‘inconvenient’ scientific truths that are easily available and verifiable,” he said. “This is not only dismissive of the dangers to the people, it is a great disrespect and disdain for natural-hazard science,” he added.
The Philippines is located at the Pacific Ring of Fire, indicating the existence of numerous volcanoes and faultlines.
“The problem in the Philippines with the nuclear option is that a suitable site is needed,” said chair of AGHAM and professor at the UP National Institute of Physics Dr. Giovanni Tapang. Nuclear power plants simply cannot be built near volcanoes, said Tapang, citing international guidelines on nuclear energy resources.
As for BNPP, the active earthquake fault in Lubao runs right through it, said Rodolfo.
Meanwhile, Geology Professor Dr. Carlo Arcilla believes that having a fault beneath the plant would make BNPP immediately inoperable, thus there is no fault under it. There might be one nearby but the earthquake generating potential and the exact distance of it cannot be determined, he said.
Arcilla is professor at the UP National Institute of Geological Sciences and director of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), Department of Science and Technology. He has also conducted an independent study on the site of BNPP.
Practical energy resources
Arcilla also claims that BNPP is safe for use.
“BNPP is not dilapidated because it was never used,” he said. “The steam generator and turbines might be replaced because these were neglected but the main issue is technical and financial feasibility. BNPP will never be operated unless it is safe,” he said, citing PNRI’s mandate as regulator.
BNPP has existed for a total of 33 years, and its technologies are estimated to be around 50 years old.
With that, BNPP is not anymore reliable when it comes to obtaining energy, said Cosico. “[Its operation will] require a massive rehabilitation that would be costlier than [making use of] other energy resources [in the Philippines],” she said.
The costs are estimated to be around $2.3 million or around P100 million.
Having the target of operating BNPP is a very shortsighted proposition, said Tapang. “While we welcome the study of nuclear energy as an option, grounding it on BNPP makes it dubious,” he added, clarifying AGHAM does not entirely oppose the deal with Russia.
The country can also explore other energy sources, said Cosico.
The Philippines has consistently been among the highest producers of geothermal energy according to the 1995 to 2015 surveys of the World Geothermal Congress.
Aside from geothermal, there are also other good sources of energy in the Philippines such as hydro and solar, said Cosico. “But we have remained dependent on coal energy as generation companies continue to invest on cheaper sources despite its contribution to green house gas emission,” she said.
AGHAM also sees the privatization of energy supply as a cause of the energy resource fiasco.
“The real problem in our energy’s security is that it is privatized, and if we have a privatized energy outlook, we will always wait for other people to do it,” Tapang said, adding that private companies will not invest unless deemed profitable, making consumers suffer.
Also among the reasons for the Philippines’ perennial problem in electricity supply is the country’s over-reliance on foreign investors, said Tapang. “We are not building our own [industries] regardless of whether there is an investor or not,” he said.
To address this energy crisis, there is a need to reverse the current orientation of a privatized energy industry, said Cosico. ◢
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