20 October 2007

Like the BNPP

The National Broadband deal is facing a lot of controversies today due to impracticality and allegations of bribery like what the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant had 30 years ago. Till now, aside from disputes on its safety and economic viability, corruption charges committed by the contractors as well as the Marcos Administration had arisen. Bataan might have been the best site for a nuclear power station (as argued by the IAEA experts), it might have been designed to withstand earthquake and any lava flows, and it might have used low-enriched uranium and non-explosive fuel, but these measures did not cloud the fact that almost $2.1 billion was spent for a $600 million only nuclear plant, augmented by the payoffs for the government officials.

The idea of using nuclear power in the Philippines was considered in June 13, 1958 when Republic Act 2067 or the Philippine Science Act was enacted, creating the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). It was mandated to conduct researches and develop atomic energy. Ten years later, through the assistance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Atomic Energy Regulatory and Liability Act (Republic Act 5207) was passed and gave the PAEC the authority to issue building and operating licenses of nuclear facilities in the country.

The second feasibility study undertaken by the UN Development Programme and the Coordinating Committee for Nuclear Power Study (CCNPS) led the next step in building the nuclear power plant. A year after President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law, all the committee’s thinking was where the plant should be situated and what type of reactor should be used. This had brought them to Morong, Bataan and settled them on a Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR).

The $1.1 billion contract between the National Power Corporation (NPC) and the Westinghouse Electric Corporation was already in place, including the provisional and construction permits to assemble the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). But a civilian nuclear accident in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania caused the construction to stop in June 1979 and compelled another commission to look into the plant’s safety. It was not only until September 1980 and another $1.95 billion that work for the nuclear plant resumed. But that was not until more and more Filipinos became anxious of the project; it did not help that over 4,000 defects were found out in the construction of the plant and it was built near a volcano and earthquake fault.

The Aquino administration listened to the pleas of most of her constituents and, through the Presidential Committee on Philippine Nuclear Power Plant, filed a lawsuit against Westinghouse for bribery and overpricing. They ended up into a compromise whereby Westinghouse would be responsible in the upgrade and operations of the plant, and would pay the country $10 million in cash and $75 million worth of discounts on non-nuclear-related equipment, while the Philippines will be paying $40 million in return. The case, however, was rejected by the United States.

Under President Fidel Ramos, the chance of a nuclear power program was reconsidered. Within two years that the Nuclear Power Steering Committee (NPSC) was formed, it proposed to convert BNPP into a combined gas cycle plant. “We found that conversion is technically possible, but economically unwise. New and dedicated coal or natural gas fired power plants would give much higher efficiencies, and thus would give the Philippines much better value per peso spent on fuel consumed. The M.E.T.T.S.'s study concluded that the only way of obtaining a reasonable return from the Bataan 'machine' is to use it as a nuclear power plant.”

But the Constitution has ruled out utilizing the BNPP again – although it has not prohibited converting the plant into a fossil fuel power station; although Filipinos has paid $155,000 a day for thirty years for its management and maintenance; although the CEO of Philippine National Oil Corporation (PNOC), Thelmo Cunanan, himself admitted that the BNPP is the country’s white elephant; and although a South Korean company has expressed an interest in taking over the nuclear power station and developing it into commercial operation.

Why it should not be worth the risk when our dependence on oil, which makes the economy vulnerable to sudden spikes in its world prices, will be reduced once we decided to employ nuclear energy is what its proponents are arguing about. In 2000-2001, the Philippines has imported 349,000,000 bbl/d of oil because it was only able to produce 23,500 bbl/d when it consumed 377,000 bbl/d.

So why would the Philippines be different when its electricity demand grows 9% per year until 2009? How would its four hydroelectric plants in Mindanao that can give out 650 MW only and its 150 MW hydroelectric facility in Luzon fill the 10,000 MW needed two years from today? To date, there are already 31 countries operating 435 nuclear power reactors, providing 6.5% of the world’s energy and 15.7% of the world’s electricity. Our Chief Executive, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, supports the Department of Energy of its Energy Plan for 1998-2035, which envisions nuclear power to provide the 600 MW needed in 2021-2025.

Because there is still the geothermal energy to which the Philippines is the second largest producer. There are still fossil fuels and hydropower plants installed on the Agno and Angat rivers of Luzon and MarĂ­a Cristina Falls on the Agusan River of Mindanao. There is an oil production field in West Linapacan. There is the Malampaya Field, which also contains gas reserves. And there is the Alternative Energy Program, which considers the "alcogas" (gasohol) and "cocodiesel" (coconut oil in diesel fuels).

Among of the companies that are helping promote renewable sources of energy are: Solar Electric Company Inc., Green Energy LLC (GESOLAR), Reiden Development Management and Marketing Corporation, Physics Research Cebu, Alternative Energy Solutions, ALTENSOL Corp., Asian Renewables, Cammon WindSolar Energy Inc., CHRP Solar Fil Enterprises, Edward Marcs Philippines Inc., Edward Marcs Philippines Inc., Energy Saving Solutions (ESS), Freidrich Enterprise, La Union Solar Energy Systems, Maxx-Energie Ventures Corp., Physics Research - Engineering & Consulting, SolarDeck Inc., Sonne, Sunsaver Technology & Manufacturing Corporation, and Talion Equipment And Contracting, Inc..

Nuclear Power may bring lower power rates and attract investors to the Philippines. It may produce very little carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” that destroy the ozone layer. It may become generally cheaper and more stable than other fuels in the long-term. But the risk involved is not worth taking as of now, especially with a third-world country like ours. We should do something else for the mean time to save or maximize the energy we need like developing alternative sources of fuel. It is simply the safer and peaceful choice.

Clarke, M. et al. Options for the Conversion of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant
to Fossil Fuel Firing.

Porcalla, D. Graft Raps Re Bataan Nuclear Power Plant Bid vs. Disini Revived. 02 Jul 2004.
Quilop, R. Using Nuclear Energy: A Philippine Experience.
Samonte, A. GMA wants nuke power harnessed. 21 Aug 2007.
Wilson, K. Philippines: Bataan nuclear plant costs $155,000 a day but no power. 30 Jun 2004.
Villafania, A. To save environment, go nuclear, says DOST exec. 13 Jun 2007.Energy Information Administration, http://www.eia.doe.gov/cabsEnergy and Power, http://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/Asia-and-Oceania/Philippines-ENERGY-AND-POWER.html

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