WHITE ELEPHANT NO MORE?

IT is a confirmed fact that our country has one of the highest electricity rates in Asia which explains why we remain as one of the poorest economies in the world.

While giant power firms such as Meralco and others feast with their billions of pesos in earnings through their highly scandalous power rates, the country and the people continue to wallow in poverty. 

Clearly, something must be done to solve this unpleasant situation if only to rescue our people from continued poverty and deprivation brought by these opportunistic conglomerates.   

 

Symbol of Abuse and Corruption

Therefore, the idea of reviving and utilizing the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) to address the worsening power requirements of the country deserves a second hard look.

BNPP which was built more than 30 years ago has been one of the enduring symbols of abuse of power and corruption of the much-hated Marcos regime.

Political opponents of Marcos had derisively called BNPP a white elephant, although records indicated that it was not designed to be a useless piece of structure but rather to be a very reliable source of the country’s power requirements.

Admittedly, the 620-megawatt plant, built in Bataan province during the notoriously corrupt Marcos regime has been a subject of controversy for decades.

 

White Elephant

Calling the mothballed BNPP a white elephant however is justifiable because it has never produced a single kilowatt ever since it was built in the 1970s at a staggering amount of US$2.3 billion.

However, with the advent of the Duterte administration, there is a big likelihood the days of BNPP being a white elephant would soon be over.

There is much discussion lately on the possible revival of BNPP after top economic and energy executives of the Duterte government among them Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi succeeded in convincing the President of its viability in meeting the country's growing power needs.

That is notwithstanding the strong opposition from activists and environmentalists.

It helps that nuclear plants with the same feature as the BNPP are still operating in Korea, Brazil and Yugoslavia. 

 

Relegated to Oblivion

In December 2015, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano said his agency is ready to assist the Philippines should it decide to revive the BNPP.

It was gathered that since 2007, the Philippines has been spending around P50 million per year to maintain the plant. 

For all intents and purposes, 2007 was the year when the government completed paying US$2.3 billion debt incurred for the construction of the power plant.

For the record, the BNPP was all set and ready to go even after the Marcos regime was toppled but the administration of the late President Corazon Aquino decided against operating it.

It was for obvious reasons that it would be her predecessor that would get the credit had it succeeded in addressing the country’s power woes.

It was eventually relegated to oblivion in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Russia.

 

Limited Options

However, talks about utilizing the power facility started eight years ago when the government faced the grim reality that it could no longer sufficiently supply the requirements of our growing economy.

Faced with limited options, the Department of Energy drafted the country’s nuclear energy policy with the end view of utilizing the BNPP. 

Owner and operator National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korean Electric Power Company (KEPCO) to assess the viability of harnessing alternative energy in the aging station.

It would take $1 billion spread over 4 years to restore the BNPP since 80% of the plant and equipment needed overhauling. The rest had to be replaced.

Even the House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy approved a bill aimed at commissioning and rehabilitating BNPP, but as fate would have it the work was again stalled following Fukushima meltdown in 2011 after a magnitude 9 earthquake hit Japan’s eastern section.

 

Reviving BNPP

In October last year, the DOE convened the inter-agency core group responsible for creating the policy alongside NAPOCOR and the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), whose mandate is to regulate nuclear power plants.

Teofilo Leonin, PNRI nuclear division chief was quoted then as declaring in a Rappler article that as a technology, nuclear power has been shown to be safe, clean, and cheap. 

He however noted that it would take five years to revive the plant to its operating level.

 

PHILVOCS Assurance

Just recently, PHIVOLCS Director Renato Solidum has said that the BNPP is safe despite its seemingly precarious location at the southwest slope of Mt. Natib.

Solidum said results of their studies showed that there are no indications that an eruption of the volcano where it sits would happen soon.

He added that they mapped out the deposits and their geologists have seen that the deposits are too thick and old, and if the BNPP will be opened for operation they will just require that sensors be installed to monitor earthquake activity just in case.

Solidum noted that the plant is also less likely to be affected by a tsunami because it is located 18 meters above the shore while the possible height of a tsunami that may hit the area is only up to 8 meters.

They likewise found no fault line under the nuclear plant and the nearest is the Iba fault which is 60 kilometers away.

But even if this fault will move, including other faults like Manila trench, Philippine fault and West Valley fault, it can withstand the intensity if the plant’s design was strictly followed.

“Assuming that the plant is well constructed, it is designed to withstand an expected intensity of a quake” Solidum stressed.

Solidum likewise said 1990 earthquake did not damage the plant even when Mt. Pinatubo erupted.

For purposes of comparison, the Fukushima nuclear plant had a peak horizontal ground acceleration of 0.1g. 

The IAEA requires a minimum of 0.1g peak horizontal ground acceleration “regardless of any lower apparent exposure to seismic hazard.”

The BNPP on the other hand has a peak acceleration of 0.4g, thus it can withstand the greatest tremor projected to hit Luzon.

Likewise, BNPP is well-protected from tsunami since it lies 18 meters above sea level in a 389-hectare lot in Napot Point.

The BNPP’s 3-loop design is similar to that of three running power stations in the world: Angra I in Brazil, Krško in Slovenia, and Kori II in South Korea which has won awards for its remarkable uptime and reliability.

 

Reduced Power Cost

OpinYon fully supports the proposal to revive and activate BNPP if only to address the skyrocketing power rates in the country.

It is therefore of paramount importance that its operations be shouldered solely by the government and not allow the private sector to join in, lest the public will be duped again such as in the case of MRT, Meralco, Nawasa and other utilities essential to public service.

Initial studies showed that should the BNPP will be back in operation, the cost of power will only be more than one peso per kilowatt hour compared to the more than four peso per kilowatt hour cost of power today.

DOE said, the Philippines is one of the countries which has the most expensive cost of electricity.

If only for that reason, then it is imperative that the BNPP be resurrected so that the country’s power rates would dramatically go down while also addressing the requirements of our industries.

For the past years, our current and previous Presidents have been going on frequent international trips to invite and lure foreign investors to bring their businesses in the country with the aim of generating jobs. 

But no amount of coaxing would make those investors come to the country if they know that the huge chunk of their earnings would just go to paying their electricity bills.

   

Free BNPP from Politics

OpinYon believes that a national policy must be in place so that BNPP must be freed and isolated from politics and let it be operated in accordance with its original purpose which is to generate nuclear power.

Nothing more nothing less! As stated above, it is not the fault of BNPP that it has become a virtual white elephant for the longest time.

The truth is while BNPP is literally a giant structure by itself, it could do nothing as it has become a hostage of two gargantuan warring families, the Marcoses and Aquinos whose hatred for each other could soar to high heavens.

As a result, the nation could only watch helplessly while the two political families try to outdo and outwit each other on what to do with the power plant.  

At the sidelines of course and enjoying the political dogfights are the oligarchs who are engaged in power sector business since they are the ones benefitting from the fight through their stratospheric power rates.

It’s sad that dirty politics, that long permeated the fabric of Philippine society, has been allowed to interfere in what should be a purely economic issue. 

The mere fact that Marcos built the plant is non-issue, nor the fact that Pres. Aquino after him ordered it scrapped.

The BNPP issue is not a “Marcos-vs-Aquino” matter. It’s a matter that may mean life or death to our economy – and to our ordinary consumers who had long suffered from high prices of electricity.

It should also be noted that President Duterte, and President Noynoy Aquino before him, had spent millions of pesos trotting around the globe in order to entice foreign businessmen to invest in the Philippines.

But how can the President convince investors to set up businesses in the Philippines when they are confronted with the fact that costs of electricity in the Philippines are prohibitive?

Reviving the BNPP would give ordinary consumers – and the Philippine economy – a chance to rid themselves of these oligarchs.  

While not perfect, the BNPP is the most ideal way available to ease ourselves out not only from power but also from economic crisis.

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