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Bataan nuclear power plant: Reopen it or not?

MORONG (PLDT/WeRoam)Why would hard-nosed foreign investors locate in the Philippines if they cannot be assured of sufficient, steady and inexpensive electricity for their operations?

Is our 14,500-megawatt national supply enough for the growing number of household and commercial users? Witness the recurring blackouts, the worst of them in Mindanao which is being promoted as an investment area.

Is our power supply steady enough to rule out costly fluctuations? Some industrial processes are so sensitive that a flicker is enough to disturb the assembly line, compromise product quality, result in missed deliveries and add to losses.

Then, is our generation cost of P5.45 per kilowatt-hour competitive? Our price is reportedly second highest, if not the highest, in the region.

All those foreign trips of President Noynoy Aquino and his sales teams aiming to bring in hard foreign investors will be for naught if these prospects cannot be assured of sufficient, steady and reasonably priced electricity on site.

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BNPP REVISITED: It was in that supply context that I joined last Saturday a visit to the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant sitting on a lonely hill here in Morong. Besides, I had long wanted to see its physical condition after almost 30 years of being idle.

Little did I know that Pangasinan Rep. Mark O. Cojuangco, a fierce advocate of nuclear power, was to be the host and guide as we toured the innards of the 620-megawatt sleeping giant.

He argued for the restarting of the $2.2-billion BNPP — possibly at a cost of $1 billion — so it can contribute cheaper electricity to the national grid.

Once we have it going, it will be owned by us the taxpayers (government) instead of being in the pocket of cronies or private operators. The billions sunk into it can be recovered in three years of operation, he said.

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DUMP IT?: After Malacañang deleted from the budget the P40 million allocated yearly for the upkeep of the plant, it seemed that the Aquino administration is for finally dumping this nuclear relic into the garbage bin.

So now Cojuangco is talking to everybody who cares to listen, including his fellow legislators, businessmen and opinion leaders, to convince them that the BNPP must be rehabilitated, is safe to operate, and can cut down electricity costs drastically.

He estimates that the BNPP can generate electricity for only P2.50 per kilowatt-hour versus the P5.45 average of the power mix streaming through the national grid and retailed at something like P12 per kwh after distribution and other costs are added.

The price of electricity in the Philippines, said to be second highest in the region, could suddenly become competitive and attractive to investors.

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MARCOSIAN EVIL: President Aquino’s lukewarm if not antagonistic attitude is understandable considering that it was his mother Cory, then the president, who mothballed the Bataan plant in 1986.

The main reason given was its supposedly being unsafe sitting close to inactive volcano Mt. Natib, peppered with a thousand supposed defects (some of which were just a matter of technical opinion) and being a bitter fruit of Marcosian corruption.

What was left unsaid was that then President Cory Aquino wanted to show herself to be the antithesis of the dictator Marcos whom she had deposed. Anything Marcos must be evil.

The project, whose principal cost was $1,419,380,000 ($2,118,730,000 when interest is added) was allegedly overpriced to the tune of $369 million — using as basis the presumed clean $1,050,000,000 price of Kori-II, a Korean plant that is a virtual twin in age and design of the BNPP.

The cost of Kori-II, btw, was recovered in just six years, Cojuangco pointed out to show the viability of a nuclear plant.

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RADIATION SAFE: But will the son, Noynoy, undo what his mother Cory had done?

Cojuangco said his cousin Noynoy should. He is still hoping that it will be “Back to Bataan” for the President, that the power crisis will bear heavily in favor of re-commissioning the BNPP.

In an earlier episode, we were told, Cojuangco waded into a cooling pond of the Bataan plant and even drank a glass of water from it to dramatize its supposed safety.

He said that eating a banana, rich in phosphorus, exposes one to more radioactivity than standing in front of a nuclear power plant for an entire year. A banana contains 0.1 microsieverts of radiation, while the 365-day exposure exposes the subject to 0.09 microsieverts of radiation.

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FAR FROM FAULT: On its being near Mt. Natib, Cojuangco  shows  a  letter  of  Director  Renato Solidum of the Philippines Institute of Volcanology and Seismology saying that “the buffer zone against rupturing recommended by Phivolcs is at least five meters on both sides of a verified trace or from the edge of the deformation zone.”

Solidum pointed out that since the BNPP is at least 64 kms south of the Iba Fault in Zambales, 78 kms northwest of the West Valley Fault System in Marikina and 83 kms south of the East Zambales Fault, “the BNPP is safe from the hazard of ground rupture related to fault movement.”

Cojuangco said the casualties in the vicinity of the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan were killed as a result of the tsunami that swept the area, not because of any radiation leak.

He added that Fukushima was designed for a seismic acceleration of 0.18G, while the Bataan plant had a higher threshold of 0.4G.

Citing technical assessments that BNPP is safer than Fukushima, Cojuangco said BNPP is younger than 70 percent of nuclear power plants operating in the United States.

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