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Either we operate it or scrap it altogether

IT is not generally known that about P40 million a year is needed to maintain the Bataan Nuclear Plant, which has been standing idle at Napot Point in Morong, Bataan, all these years. Construction of the plant started in 1976. It was to have two 600-megawatt nuclear reactors at an estimated cost of $500 million, but by the time construction work was completed in 1984, with only one reactor actually built, the cost had ballooned to $2.3 billion.

After the fall of the Ferdinand Marcos government in 1986, the Cory Aquino administration decided not to operate the plant, bowing to opposition from Bataan residents and others in the country questioning the integrity of the construction. The Philippine government sued Westinghouse, for alleged overpricing and bribery but lost the case in a United States court. For the next two decades, the government had to pay off its obligations on the plant, completing payments in 2007.

At one time, the Korea Electric Power Corp. was asked to look at the plant and it assessed that it would cost $1 billion to rehabilitate it. In 2016, some 2,000 defects were confirmed.

That is now the state of the Bataan Nuclear Plant to which the Department of Energy brought members of Congress last week, to see if it can still be put to good use to provide much-needed power for Philippine industries.

The move to develop nuclear power has never been given up by those who believe that nuclear energy is among the safest and cheapest sources of power in the world today. Nuclear power plants operate in 31 countries, led by the United States, France, Russia, South Korea, China, and Canada. These countries run over 440 commercial power reactors and 60 more reactors are under construction.

The World Nuclear Association said over 45 countries are giving serious consideration to developing nuclear power capability, among them Belarus, Iran, Jordan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and our fellow ASEAN member Vietnam.

Expanding their current nuclear capacity are China, India, and South Korea.

On the other hand, several other countries remain opposed to developing nuclear power, among them Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, and Ireland. This year Italy closed all of its nuclear stations. Belgium, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland are phasing out nuclear power.

With such a diversity of views and stands on nuclear power, how shall we proceed in the Philippines? There are some who say the newer reactors are very much safer than the old ones, that nuclear power is much cleaner than the coal plants that now provide most of our country’s power needs.

Then there are those who say that a disaster like the one in Fukushima, Japan caused by a tsunami could negate all safety precautions, that the Philippines is prone to many natural dangers such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and super-typhoons, and that we have so many other possible power sources such as solar, wind, and hydro power
Some of the senators who recently toured the idle Bataan Nuclear Plant (BNP) said they were open to the general idea of using nuclear power to generate electricity, but the BNP, built with plans current in 1976, could be a major source of danger to the nation, especially since it stands in an earthquake-prone zone and close to volcanoes, such as Mt Pinatubo which erupted in 1991.

Whatever the final decision will be, it must be done without further delay. We are wasting P40 million a year to maintain the BNP without getting a single watt of electricity out of it. “Either we operate it or we scrap it altogether,” Sen Victor “JV” Ejercito said. The Duterte administration, known for its decisiveness, should step in and make that decision.