September 03, 2016 at 12:01 am
The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is in the news again. It has been mothballed for 30 years, but now the Department of Energy is considering operating the controversial plant as an alternative power source. As expected, reactions are varied although many, if not most of the opposition can be traced to lack of knowledge or misconceptions on the BNPP itself, and on nuclear energy.
I sought the help of the foremost advocate for the opening of BNPP, former Pangasinan Representative Mark Cojuangco, to help people understand the benefits that could be brought about by opening the plant. He came up with these:
1. Operating BNPP will save foreign exchange, recognized as our scarcest resource.
Uranium’s energy density is extremely high. A small amount contains a large amount of energy. Compared to coal, about 120,000 times more per kilogram energy is produced.
BNPP only needs to be refueled once every 18 months and with ONLY 20 Tons of fuel. Such fuel will fit a small truck. For 18 months, BNPP can generate about 8.1 billion Kwhs. That’s enough to light up more than 41.3 billion 15-watt lightbulbs for eighteen months, 24 hours a day. That’s a lot of lightbulbs from only 20 tons of fuel. In contrast, to generate the same quantity of electricity, a coal plant would need 2.55 million tons of coal over that same 18-month period.
20 tons vs 2.55 million tons is a no-brainer. And this is just one part of the magic of nuclear power.
Value wise, 20 tons of nuke fuel is worth about $20 million and 2,550,000 tons of coal is worth about $102 million. There is an $80-million savings every 18 months with nuclear energy.
In addition, because of the great volume of coal required, freight becomes a major issue. We need 51 Panamax size ships to transport the coal. Ship rentals are not cheap. We need to add this huge freight cost to the cost of our coal.
So with nuclear, there will be huge savings in forex. Such savings can be used for important things like needed infrastructure that will benefit our people and our country. Now, we burn a lot of forex away as fuel without anything much and permanent to show for it after. This is sad, and it does not have to be.
2) BNPP will result in cheap electricity. This will make us more attractive to foreign investors. We will be less bypassed as an investment/manufacturing destination. Our costly electricity cost us dearly in terms of economic opportunity. Is it plausible that our economy would grow an additional one (1) percent if electricity costs half its price? I think that is an easy proposition to accept. In our economy of P15 trillion, 1 percent represents P150 billion of FOREGONE economic opportunity because of expensive and unreliable supply of electricity. Imagine what we lost the last 30 years that the BNPP was not used. It is easy to see why we missed the boat economically.
Let us not make the same mistake now. Let us not leave the solution to just the private sector. Let us make BNPP productive to keep electricity prices honest.
3) It is strategically more secure because the physical volume of fuel needed every 18 months is so small.
Imagine a conflict in the West Philippine Sea. To keep our coal plant running, an uninterrupted string of about three (3) ships per month need to deliver coal. Any interruption or delay will result in brownouts.
In contrast, our nuclear plant needs fuel only ONCE every eighteen months. This is more convenient and programmable. Also, our fuel only needs to be loaded in a small airplane, to be delivered in a few hours. Fast and economical compared to 51 big ships.
4) Nuclear energy is good for the environment. It emits nothing. It means less CO2 and pollution everywhere.
This is the other magic of nuclear. We are not “burning” anything in the chemical sense. There is no fire, no smoke, no ash as we know it. There is only heat produced by the invisible fission reaction.
The core of BNPP contains about 60 tons of nuclear fuel. A third of this is replaced every 18 months. 20 Tons new goes in and 20 tons old go out. What goes in looks exactly like what goes out. It is not like a piece of wood that when burned becomes charcoal or ash. There is no outward dirt or residue produced. called SNF (spent nuclear fuel). Which is not really spent, but only partly used.
This “waste” is mostly fertile material. It can be bred into new fuel in Gen4 reactors. A great national wealth that we would be crazy to just throw away. How much is there? Each 18-month batch of SNF will yield 50 new batches. That’s 900 months or 75 years worth!
A good example of Gen4 is https://www.transatomicpower.com/the-science/ and video is https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2014/02/transatomic-presents-their-molten-salt.html.
5) Nuclear energy saves lives.
How deadly is your Kilowatt? According to the WHO, from various sources it is as follows in “Deaths per terawatt-hour” (TWh): Coal 170,000, Oil 36,000, Biofuel 24,000, Gas 4,000, Hydro 1,400, Solar 440, Wind 150, Nuclear 90. The numbers for nuclear already include Chernobyl, ThreeMile, and Fukushima. If not for the fatalities at Chernobyl, nuclear would be ZERO. No one died or was injured at Three Mile or at Fukushima. And so, nuclear is the safest of energy sources.
Nuclear being the lowest, implies that for every other kind of energy which nuclear substitutes, it is saving lives the entire time for which it is in operation. Meaning, nuclear has saved millions of lives already. Let us save more lives!
(To be continued next week)
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