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The cost to the nation of the rejected nuclear plant option

CROSSROADS TOWARD PHILIPPINE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS - Gerardo P. Sicat - The Philippine Star

In 1985, the construction of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant project of the National Power Corp. was structurally completed.

The installation of the power plant machinery and the final testing was supposed to be finished by the following year, and then it could be activated and commissioned for power generation.

Politics of People Power. It is well-known that as an aftermath of People Power, former president Corazon Aquino rejected the commissioning into service of the nuclear power plant.

In my Crossroads column of Sept. 3, 2014, I wrote:

“Cory Aquino’s ill-advised failure to put the nuclear project on stream led the nation to pay for the following: (1) The full cost of the nuclear power plant, with zero electricity. (2) All the over-pricing that political partisans were saying was the cost of the project. (3) All interest payments on long term loans related to construction and machinery. (4) All the human capital invested in building an engineering and scientific manpower designed to man the nuclear plant. (5) All the downtime and lost productivity to the nation during the power outages in those years.”

I also said that it led to the misdirection of the efforts of her successor, the talented former president Fidel Ramos, who used most of his time to address the electricity crisis caused by this decision. Those efforts to end the power crisis, of course, also led to the high cost of electricity we suffer to this day.

Nuclear power electricity generation in East Asia.  During the energy crisis of the 1970s, four countries in East and Southeast Asia were active with projects on nuclear economic power as a means to solve the problem: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Today, Japan, which was the pioneer in the nuclear use for electricity generation, generates 6.5 percent of the total requirements in electricity from nuclear power. In the case of South Korea, the share from nuclear is 18.1 percent; and in Taiwan, it is eight percent.

Sadly, in the Philippines, nuclear power has not played a role in power generation in view of the decision not to commission it. It is also true that as a result, our economic achievements compared to these countries has widened, with them forging far ahead.

In 1979, I attended a meeting as the country’s planning secretary on Pacific cooperation issues in Jakarta, and there I met Kim Jae Ik, who was then South Korea’s Park Chung-hee’s principal economic adviser. Our conversation centered on our nuclear power projects that were then under construction. South Korea was also embarking on their initial nuclear power plant project; Kim had an admiration for our nuclear project. (A few months later, in October, Kim was a collateral victim in the assassination of former president Park Chung-hee. Despite that political catastrophe, South Korea’s nuclear power program was sustained and facilitated that country’s economic growth.)

The nuclear power program of South Korea and Taiwan started at about the same time as ours. Theirs intensified through the following decades until the Fukushima nuclear accident that came about as a result of the earthquake-tsunami disaster of 2011.

Post-Fukushima politics of nuclear power and climate change. The damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant dampened the enthusiasm for nuclear power, especially in these three nuclear countries – Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

The consequent politics of nuclear power in these countries had naturally influenced the decision of their leaders to reduce dependence on nuclear power, using as much of the redirection toward the use of non-renewable sources of energy.

Japan, which took the most drastic regulatory move in the wake of Fukushima, had 54 nuclear reactors supplying 30 percent of the total needs for power in 2010. They reduced this to 6.5 percent of electricity supply. This was achieved by a doubling up of non-renewable energy supply up to 18.5 percent of total requirements. The shortfall had to be made up for by increasing supply coming from carbon-based electricity plants.

In getting elected, South Korean President Moon Jae-in had promised to phase out nuclear power. But today, he is fully embracing a renewed strategy to promote nuclear power. Continuing to rely on nuclear power, the future is now based on building more mini nuclear plants. This is also integrated into its industrial strategy to be at the forefront of technology innovation in the area. South Korea today is building Abu Dhabi’s first nuclear power plant.

Given the ambitious targets on reducing dependence on carbon-based energy and the challenge to reverse climate change in the next 30 years, there is a growing recognition that the role of non-renewable energy projects of the future will still require the use of nuclear energy.

Today, the main nuclear powers in the energy business have been directing their energies in finding innovative solutions to further reduce risks in their operations, especially after Fukushima.

This is happening also in frenzied action in the technological capitals in Russia, the US, and in Asia.

The current target construction of mini nuclear powers is the thrust of South Korea’s program. It is part of a program that is competing in the design of improved and much safer nuclear plants.

Philippine nuclear case, again. There is no doubt that the Philippine decision not to use the nuclear power in the aftermath of People Power changes was affected by the fears behind the Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island incidents related to nuclear power plants at that time.

That was a different era then. Post-Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the technology of nuclear power plants included enhanced safety standards. The plants being built installed in in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan at the time were similar to the Westinghouse plant that was built in Bataan.

However, the overpowering politics of unreason in the country’s mood in 1986 was to devalue the previous government’s accomplishments to diversify the country’s energy dependence on imports. Nuclear power was part of that program. But the successors in government coalesced to exact political revenge. The nuclear plant was a convenient scapegoat.

 

 

For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: https://www.philstar.com/authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/

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