Jocular Inspection – The strange story of a mothballed nuclear plant, a dormant volcano, and misguided congressmen

Feature story - January 27, 2009
Something strange happened during the Christmas holidays of 2008 in the Philippines. Instead of celebrating the enactment of the Renewable Energy Law, a baffling report was published in the local newspapers.

Greenpeace activists wearing face paint gesture “stop” with their hands, in reference to a Congress Bill pushing for the immediate revival of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. In a press conference in Quezon City today, Greenpeace warned that Congress is off to hasten the bill regardless of serious social and environmental costs, and are using myths and abusing scientific data to support their bid.

Greenpeace activists wearing face paint gesture “stop” with their hands, in reference to a Congress Bill pushing for the immediate revival of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. In a press conference in Quezon City today, Greenpeace warned that Congress is off to hasten the bill regardless of serious social and environmental costs, and are using myths and abusing scientific data to support their bid.

"RP revives nuke program" proclaimed headlines in local newspapers.

According to reports, the Philippine government had officially restarted its nuclear energy development program after it entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Korean government for a feasibility study on the possible revival of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). The MOU sought cooperation in the rehabilitation, operation and maintenance of the controversial BNPP that was abandoned following vociferous protests from civil society, ecologists and non-governmental organizaitons..

This was certainly not a bolt from the dark. Earlier in the year, in -July (6) 2008, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes had announced that "a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that inspected the power plant in Bataan months ago has reported that this could be rehabilitated in at least five years at a cost of $800 million."

No one, including Greenpeace, took Secretary Reyes's statements seriously since it was clear that it was not IAEA's role to go around reviving, rehabilitating , resuscitating obsolete and inactive nuclear power plants.

Greenpeace is an international organization that is campaigning globally for :

An end of the nuclear age

  • Phase out of all existing reactors.
  • No new construction of commercial nuclear reactors.
  • Stop international trade in nuclear technologies and materials.
  • Phase out all direct and indirect subsidies for nuclear energy.

A renewable energy future

  • Divert state funding for energy research into nuclear and fossil fuel energy technologies towards clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency.
  • Set legally-binding targets for renewable energy.
  • Provide investors in renewable energy with stable, predictable returns.
  • Guarantee priority access to the grid for renewable generators.
  • Adopt strict efficiency standards for all electricity-consuming appliances.

A fact confirmed by Dr.Kelvin S. Rodolfo, Professor Emeritus, Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago and Adjunct Professor National Institute of Geological Sciences at the University of the Philippines during an enlightening presentation to the media in Manila.

 The good professor quotes Mr. Akira Omoto, Director of the IAEA´s Division of Nuclear Power and leader of the mission to the Philippines - "In the case of Bataan, the plant was completed over 20 years ago. Our mission visited the plant to gauge the current state of the plant, but our suggestion to the Philippines was simply on what steps they need to take and what needs to be considered to complete their own assessment." This is straight from the horses mouth, so to speak, as it is based on the staff report filed on the IAEA website. 

Clearly Secretary Reyes misunderstood or he was misquoted. But he is not the only one.

Congressman Mark Cojuangco [5th District of Pangasinan] who filed House Bill 4631 of the 14th Congress, "Mandating the immediate re-commissioning and commercial operation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant" chose to misquote a scientific report, in the explanatory note in the bill certifying the safety of the site:

"Top geologists have evaluated Bataan and, with the exception of Mt. Natib which is a dormant volcano whose last eruption was estimated to have been between 11.3 to 18 thousand years ago (Cabato et al. 2005) and which is ten kilometers (10 km) from the BNPP, could find no anomalies in locating the plant there."

 Slide presentation of Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Adjunct Professor at the University of the Philippines' National Institute for Geological Sciences.



The good Professor, Dr.Kelvin S. Rodolfo, is hopping mad. He is after all one of the authors of the report and like he informed the media in Manila "BNPP is not 10 kilometers away from Natib, it is on Natib, which is the entire northern half of the Bataan peninsula."

"Mount Natib is not dormant" is his most vehement argument. And it is difficult to argue with the man who has done years of analysis with his fellow scientists to arrive at the conclusion that ". . . A breach in the caldera of Mt Natib is the most likely source of a presumed pyroclastic deposit in the eastern bay that is associated with sediments about 11.3-18 ka. Indicating that a Natib eruption occurred much more recently than previously documented for this volcano." (Cabato, M. E. J. A., Rodolfo, K. S., and Siringan, F. P., 2005).

On the basis of geological studies and seismic reflection tests carried out by his team, Dr. Rodolfo is willing to bet his degrees and grey hair, that Mt. Natib is overdue for a serious shake up, also known as eruption. The usual faulting intervals are about 2000 years, and the last 'faulting episode' and was about 3000 years ago. Well, we are not arguing with the good professor.

We wonder why then is Congressman Cojuangco fast-tracking the house bill promulgating the revival of such a dangerous proposition, on the basis of an 'ocular inspection' carried out by vested interests, lay men and uneducated congressmen and ignoring the advice of the scientists?

Why are hundreds opushing for quick passage of a bill that spells disaster for the Philippines?

This is the one billion dollar question that all Filipino tax payers should be asking our congressmen.

No wonder  then, Greenpeace Executive Director, Mr. Von Hernandez reiterated at the media briefing " This is an expensive distraction, from real solutions. Development of wind, solar, geo-thermal energy, demand side management for improved electrical efficiency and decentralized renewable energy are the urgent issues that need to be addressed in the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Renewable Energy Law. The congressmen pursuing this foolish nuclear fantasy, for quick personal gains, are wasting our time, money and energy. We have to bring an end to this nonsense, now."

Take action!

The next few weeks will spell the difference between a nuclear disaster and a clean renewable energy future for Filipinos. Tell Congress to vote against the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant!

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Our vision of a better future is only as strong as the people who support us. Join Greenpeace today and add your voice to the movement that's committed to defending our planet. Your support will make all the difference.

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