EDITORIAL — Nuclear energy

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL � Nuclear energy

Among the accomplishments touted by the administration in President Marcos’ latest overseas trip – his third to the United States – is the signing of agreements with US companies for the development of nuclear power for civilian uses in the Philippines.

In pursuing this initiative, the government must ensure full transparency and keep the public properly informed about any nuclear facility that will be built in the country. This is to prevent any project from turning into another costly white elephant like the mothballed nuclear plant in Bataan.

During the first Marcos administration, one of the biggest scandals revolved around the construction of the 620-megawatt Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. BNPP builder Westinghouse Electric Co. allegedly gave dictator Ferdinand Marcos $80 million as kickback in exchange for the contract. The BNPP became a symbol of large-scale corruption and cronyism during the Marcos regime.

Safety issues also hounded the BNPP and it was never commissioned. The project cost ballooned from the initial price of $500 million when construction started in 1976 to over $2.2 billion for one nuclear reactor by the time it was completed in 1984. After the 1986 people power revolt, the BNPP was mothballed, but Filipinos continued to repay loans and interests for its construction. Payments were completed only in 2007, totaling P64.7 billion – P43.5 billion in principal amortization and P21.2 billion in interest.

As in the 1970s when the first Marcos administration decided to set up a nuclear plant, the reason given this time is to boost the country’s energy security and bring down power costs. Opponents point out that Japan, which is heavily reliant on nuclear power for its energy needs, has the most expensive electricity in Asia. Opponents also note that on March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.1 earthquake struck northeastern Japan, generating an apocalyptic tsunami that caused a meltdown in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors. Up to 20,000 people died in the disaster.

Apart from the risks of such cataclysms in countries like the Philippines that are situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire of active earthquake faults and volcanoes, opponents of nuclear power have pointed out the continuing lack of a satisfactory way of nuclear waste disposal. In pursuing nuclear energy development, the government must be ready for the “not in my backyard” mindset that Filipinos have manifested even in the construction of telecommunications towers in their communities.

While exploring nuclear power, it would be prudent for the government to intensify the development of clean energy including solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower. Project implementation in this country always benefits from less controversy.

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