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BNPP commissioning requires political will

The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant issue – more precisely, the issue of whether the 620-megawatt nuclear power plant in Bataan should be commissioned and connected to this country’s energy grid – has been largely dormant since former President Corazon Aquino thumbed it down right after the Edsa Revolution, but it has from time to time come out into the arena of public discussion and then quickly returned to the back burner. The latest person to bring the issue back into the spotlight is the new Secretary of Energy, Alfonso Cusi, who has declared that BNPP”s commissioning is one of the energy policy options being considered by the Duterte administration.

No sooner had Secretary Cusi said “nuclear” than the usual chorus of anti-BNPP elements were storming the letters-to-the-editor newspaper spaces and social media with their arguments that they first put forward three decades ago. These arguments may be summed up in two words: safety and history.

The critics, who now apparently include the chairman of the Senate committee on energy, were quick to reiterate (1) that BNPP is unsafe and hazardous because of its location in an earthquake-prone area, (2) that  the effects on human health of an accident like the accidents that occurred in Fukushima or Chernobyl would be horrendous and (3) that there would be a very difficult problem of nuclear-waste disposal.

These arguments, and the answers to them, have all been stated before. To repeat the answers here would be to sound like a broken record.

The supporters of BNPP’s commissioning have pointed to the fact that the Morong plant emerged virtually unscathed from the 7.2 Northern Luzon earthquake of 1990 and the following year’s Mt. Pinatubo eruption; the fact that the US, Japan and the other major industrial countries continue to be principally powered by nuclear energy; the fact that in the last 60 years there have been only a handful of nuclear-energy disasters and that nuclear-waste disposal is a concomitant of nuclear power and nuclear-energy countries have learned to deal with this admittedly serious problem.

All these technical and operational risk issues have been exhaustively addressed in the past public discussions of the idea of BNPP’s being commissioned. It has all been said before. There is nothing more to be added on these issues.

Likewise, the historical background of the Morong plant has been the object of extreme discussion and examination on all the occasions when it has been in the arena of public discussion. Yes, BNPP was a Marcos-era project. Yes, it was bought from Westinghouse and Burns and Roe for $2.2 billion. And, yes, the purchase and installation appears to have been attended by bribery and hefty commissions. Like the safety and technical issues, these elements of the BNPP saga have been discussed and examined ad nauseam.

But BNPP continues to sit there, entailing P27 million of maintenance costs year after year. And if the new administration does not act decisively on the matter, it will continue to incur the maintenance cost every year.

BNPP is often carelessly referred to as a white elephant. It is not a white elephant. It will be usable and operational after technical and engineering work that has been placed preliminarily at around $1 billion (P47 billion). There is a consensus that BNPP is capable of being placed on operational status.

To say that the P47 billion refitting cost might as well be spent on a number of other non-nuclear plants is to ignore the benefits derivable from a commissioned BNPP. Power that is considerably less expensive than power generated by oil-fired and coal-fired plants, is clean and operationally is less problematic. There are the benefits that BNPP will offer a high-energy-cost, power-short and environmentally challenged Philippine economy.

There is no need for more congressional hearings on the BNPP. The facts – the pluses and the minuses – are already on the table. All that is needed now is a decision by the Duterte administration either to shelve the Bataan plant indefinitely or to proceed with its commissioning.

In sum, a display of political will is all that is needed now.

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Topics: Rudy Romero , Bataan Nuclear Power Plant , BNPP
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