By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) is one of the most controversial projects of former president Ferdinand Marcos. The plant construction began in 1977 despite strong opposition from various sectors because of the risks it poses on the life and health of the people.
When Marcos was ousted, the succeeding administration of Corazan Aquino closed down the power plant citing 4,000 defects in its design and construction.
Today, the current administration under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is pushing for the re-opening and rehabilitation of the power plant in Bataan as a solution to the projected “energy crisis” in 2012. House Bill 6300, a consolidated version of the bill sponsored by Pampanga representative and House Energy Committee chair Juan Miguel Arroyo, is principally authored by Pangasinan representative Mark Cojuangco.
HB 6300 mandates the immediate rehabilitation, commissioning and commercial operation of the BNPP. BNPP is the single biggest loan of the Philippine government amounting to US$2.63 billion. It was the Marcos regime’s milking cow and the same scenario would possible happen upon the revival of BNPP under the current administration.
“The people will not forgive the representatives that will pass this folly of a bill,” Dr. Giovanni Tapang, spokesman of Network Opposed to BNPP Revival (NO to BNPP Revival), said. He added that the government would only pass on the responsibility of paying all the unnecessary expenditures that would be used for the construction of the power plant to the tax-paying Filipino people.
Safety and (In) Dependence Measures
In the early 1980s, US nuclear engineer Robert Pollan inspected the BNPP after the Three-Mile Island accident in the United States. 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.
Pollan concluded that the BNPP is not safe to operate because of an old design plagued with unresolved safety issues. The BNPP is prone to accidents since it is located on the top of Mt. Natib, a volcano. It is also near the Manila Trench, an earthquake fault in the Philippines.
Studies reveal the possibility that earthquakes in the area might cause the leakage of nuclear fuel used in the opereation. This would surely cause a number of radiation-related diseases. Professor Roland Simbulan, in a paper The Folly of BNPP and Nuclear Power, wrote, “Even countries that pride themselves with being at the forefront of nuclear technology have thousands of citizens who are suffering from diseases related to ‘low-level radiation’.” He was referring to the U.S., Japan and France, countries that still do not have a permanent solution to address the problem of storing and disposing of nuclear wastes. Residues from nuclear power plants are poisonous and would still be harmful for more than 100 years.
Commercial operation of a nuclear plant will not guarantee the country’s energy independence since uranium, a primary element used in processing nuclear power, is sourced from other countries namely, Canada, the US, Australia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Namibia, Niger, Uzbekistan, China, and Ukraine. The informative primer booklet prepared by the NO to BNPP Revival stated that the U.S. would greatly benefit once the operation of the nuclear plant will start. The US would most likely recycle uranium from the nuclear weapons that they would not use anymore, turning these into a source of enormous profits.
Simbulan said the Philippines would be liberated from its dependence on foreign energy sources such as oil and uranium only through the development and harnessing of alternative renewable sources of energy. He added that this could be done if the nation’s leaders have the political will to rapidly develop and expand these renewable, safe and clean energy sources.
“The government should be clear with its priorities. If they are serious in conducting studies to develop the energy sector, they should put the funds on researches in unleashing the renewable energy potential of the country,” Tapang said, referring to the proposed allotment of P100 million ($2.1 million) for research studies on the feasibility of reviving the BNPP. He wondered aloud why Congress is funding a study on the BNPP when the findings are already evident even before the research starts..
The Fight to Block the Bill
Rep. Mark Cojuangco has recently delivered his sponsorship speech. According to Tapang, this means that House Bill 6300, providing for the revival of the BNPP, would already be tabled for plenary discussion as soon as the session opens in July, together with other pending controversial bills such as the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
“We think that HB 6300 would have to go through the eye of a needle because progressive party list representatives and other congressmen who are against the revival of the BNPP would surely lead a big debate,” Tapang told Bulatlat. If progressive party list representatives succeed in blocking the bill until the term of the current Congress ends, it would have to be re-filed and that in itself is a victory because the bill would then have to go through the whole process again.
In the meantime, environmental groups would take the opportunity to disseminate information regarding the harmful and hazardous effects of operating a nuclear power plant. The NO to BNPP Revival, an alliance of individuals, institutions and organizations from different sectors, was launched last February 2009 to organize discussions and conduct protest actions that would stop the revival of the nuclear plant.
Last June 5, the NO to BNPP Revival organized a fundraising event at the Bahay Kalinaw at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City titled “No to Revival, No to BNPP: A Night of Songs, Poems and Dance.” The participants were served lugaw (rice porridge). “Rice porridge is the cheapest food that we can afford. This is all that we have compared to the billions of pesos that are being used to betray the people,” Tapang said. (Bulatlat.com)