3 bishops oppose revival of nuke plant
Three Catholic bishops are opposing the proposed revival of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, citing safety hazards and waste of scarce government resources.
“With so much to be spent for its rehabilitation, is this the time to revive this folly of Marcos corruption? Could the money not be used for more urgent needs of the poor like schools and hospitals?” said Balanga Bishop Socrates Villegas, who has pastoral jurisdiction over the area where the power plant is located.
The bishops made public their opposition after the main proponent of the plant’s revival in Congress, Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco, brought a group of legislators on a tour of the facility last Thursday.
Cojuangco is seeking to revive and operate the 22-year-old white elephant with his bill, the “Bataan Nuclear Power Plant Commissioning Act of 2008,” which has already gained 190 signatures in the House.
Built with much corruption
“How can a 30-year-old nuclear power plant which has never been operated, which has an outdated design built with much corruption, be safely operated now?” Villegas asked.
“What was not safe 30 years ago cannot become safe by a mere congressional act. We want progress but not at the risk of human life and safety,” he said.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, who heads the Episcopal Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said the danger posed to society by the nuclear plant has to be considered.
He cited geographical location, noting that the power plant is at the foot of Mt. Natib, a potentially active volcano, which would make the nuclear facility vulnerable to seismic activity.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, the first of the bishops to oppose the plan, cited the danger of improper disposal of nuclear waste.
How to dispose nuclear waste
If the government wants to revive the nuclear power plant, it should first answer the “most important of all questions”—how it would dispose of the nuclear waste, he said.
Cruz said all countries that operate nuclear power plants consider the disposal of nuclear waste a “big and deep dark national secret.”
Villegas, former aide to the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, a leading light of the anti-Marcos movement, recalled how the construction of the Bataan nuclear power plant was attended by many irregularities.
“It stands as a mute witness of abominable greed and corruption and as a reminder to all Filipinos that such deeds that only bring untold suffering should never again be foisted on our country,” said Villegas.
He said the Diocese of Balanga was not being antiprogress. “The safety and health and lives of the people cannot be sacrificed for progress,” he said.
No real danger
Cojuangco said he is willing to take up residence in Morong town near the mothballed facility just to prove that there was no real danger in operating the 620-megawatt facility to resolve the country’s energy problems.
“Even if I have to live beside the plant, I would do it just to prove it is safe,” said Cojuangco, a son of son of Marcos crony Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., in a radio interview.
Cojuangco took more than a dozen of his colleagues in the House on a personal inspection of the BNPP last Thursday to show that the nuclear facility built by Westinghouse in 1986 was still in good condition.
More radiation from banana
“The allowed radiation from a nuclear plant is comparable to potassium 40 which one gets from a banana. That’s why the radiation you get from eating a banana is more than what you will get if you stand beside a nuclear plant for one year,” said Cojuangco.
He said the International Atomic Energy Agency has already green-lighted the safety of the BNPP which was shelved during the Aquino administration because it was overpriced from the bribery and corruption that attended its award. It was also strongly opposed by the area’s residents who felt the plant site was unsafe because of the fault line and nearby volcanos.
The BNPP has a “twin” nuclear plant in Korea which Cojuangco said was paid off in seven years after it was commissioned in the mid-1980s. This was the reason why Korea has much lower power rates than the Philippines, he said.
“We could have paid off the $1.25 billion loan in four or five years had we run the plant and this could have spawned four or five more plants,” said Cojuangco.
“Fossil fuel like coal and natural gas are actually more radioactive than nuclear power. Burning 1.7 million tons of coal (in a plant the size of BNPP) produces 3 tons of concentrated ash with uranium and thorium and this is not disposed properly but spread all over. Even natural gas emits radon which is radioactive,” he said.
“The irony is that what pushed us to close the BNPP is our unjustified fears of nuclear power but the alternative fuel source, in the meantime, has destroyed our environment. And this destruction is what is pushing us to go nuclear.”
With soaring energy prices and growing concern about the environmental impact of burning fossil fuels, Cojuangco said it was about time that government seriously considered running the BNPP after paying out its bill of $2.25 billion ($1 billion in interest) last year.
He said that he had been advocating the opening of BNPP since he won a seat in Congress in 2001 but it had not gained supporters.
“Since this is my last term, I have decided to do something about it,” he said.
Based on his estimates, Cojuangco said that by charging P1 to P2 per kilowatt hour, the BNPP would pay itself out in five to 10 years.
San Miguel Corp., which is being managed by Cojuangco’s father, has already expressed an interest in taking over the BNPP. The food and beverage conglomerate is diversifying into power generation.
Cojuangco said that building a nuclear plant costs the same as a coal-fired plant but with half the operating costs.
Contrary to the general perception, Cojuangco said a nuclear plant cannot explode because it only contained 1.5-percent enriched uranium, or a fraction of the 80 percent required to make an atomic bomb.
With Tonette Orejas, Inquirer Central Luzon