Bataan nuke option dead for now

Posted at 03/14/2011 2:59 PM | Updated as of 03/14/2011 2:59 PM

MANILA, Philippines - A proposal to revive the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) is now dead in the water, at least for now, after partial meltdowns at 2 nuclear reactors in Japan revived fears of a Chernobyl-like disaster.

Former Pangasinan 5th District congressman Mark Cojuangco, the original proponent to revive the BNPP, said he is backing down from the proposal until he gets more information on the crisis affecting quake-hit Japan.

"I advised my wife (new Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco) to declare a moratorium on the BNPP until such time that all the details, all the information is in so we could all know what happened in Japan," he told ABS-CBN's "Umagang Kay Ganda."

Cojuangco said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other regulatory bodies are expected to impose new rules and regulations on safe use of nuclear power especially after a magnitude 8.9 earthquake and succeeding tsunami affected cooling systems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

He, however, said he is not backing down on his support for nuclear power as an alternative energy source since the BNPP uses much better technology than the Fukushima plant. He said the BNPP uses pressurized water reactors to cool down the nuclear reactor, a technology used by 79% of nuclear power plants all over the world.

He also said he is saddened that the Japan crisis would set back plans by other nations to adopt the nuclear energy option.

"If all countries back down on nuclear power, prices of coal and oil will go up and electricity rates will go up," he said.

The BNPP, built from 1976 to 1984 for $2.3 billion, was mothballed after the 1986 People Power revolution which overthrew the Marcos regime.

The plant, which would have put produced 621 megawatts, is supposed to have over 4,000 defects. The country’s single biggest debt item, taxpayer money finally paid it off in 2007.

The 2007-2035 Philippine Energy Plan released by the Department of Energy states that the country -- a net energy importer -- must consider a renewed nuclear power program amid oil price volatility.

Loren also opposes nuke power

In a separate interview, Sen. Loren Legarda said she is against the use of nuclear power as an energy source since the country's safety standards are not as high compared to Japan.

"I am not an advocate of nuclear power because knowing the safety standards in the Philippines and our total unpreparedness in handling nuclear power and especially knowing what happened now...it could be dangerous," she said.

She added: "It is outdated. I am not a scientist and perhaps the engineers would be in a better position to gauge its efficiency. I don't think a 20-year to 30-year-old plant should be put in operation. Of course, they would have to study it, upgrade it and update it but then again is this our priority now?"

For his part, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez said Japan’s situation should serve as ample warning to the Philippine government to totally give up plans to resurrect the mothballed nuclear power plant in Bataan.

“What is happening in Japan confirmed our fear even before up to now, that’s why we oppose plans to revive the nuclear plant in Bataan,” Iñiguez said.

The bishop said the BNPP would not benefit the country and could instead expose the Filipinos to unnecessary dangers.

“They should intently follow what is happening in Japan on its results if nuclear malfunction occurs,” Iñiguez said.

Japan officials are now probing whether a meltdown has occurred at the Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant after Friday’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami.

People have already been evacuated around a 10-km radius of the plant after the nuke plant had explosions and vented smoke to the air.

Explosions happened when hydrogen-filled steam, released to reduce pressure from overheating reactors, reacted with oxygen.

Wind direction

Meanwhile, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) officials said unlike previous nuclear meltdowns such as Chernobyl in Ukraine, nuclear power plants in Japan have structures aimed at stopping the spread of the radioactive waste.

Alumanda Dela Rosa, director of the DOST’s Philippine Nuclear Research Institute, said the institute is in constant communication with the IAEA to monitor the latest development on Japan's nuclear crisis.

She said the most critical phase of the crisis is over because Japanese authorities were able to bring water to the reactor.

She said the wind direction also shows that the Philippines will most likely not be affected by radiation from Japan in case of a total meltdown. She said latest figures from the World Meteorological Organization showed that the wind in Japan is blowing eastward away from the Philippines.

"The wind direction is going east away from us. It will go eastward. Palayo ng Philippines," she told radio dzMM.