Nuke plant unsafe, says study

Published by rudy Date posted on February 8, 2009

MANILA, Philippines—The Senate and the Office of the President have in their possession an explosive study whose disclosure could very well result in the permanent shuttering of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant and end moves in Congress to reopen the facility, according to environmentalist Nicanor Perlas.

According to Perlas, it is important that the four-year study be made public as Congress has now begun debates on a bill filed by Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco seeking to rehabilitate the BNPP at a cost of $1 billion.

He said the study, conducted in 1991 by local and foreign experts, showed that the plant’s most serious defect concerned its Quality Assurance Program, which the experts found to be sloppy and below regulatory standards.

This meant that there was no way to determine if the strict, precise procedures in the construction of a nuclear plant were followed which would have ensured that the plant was safe and the design specifications of Westinghouse Electric Corp., which sold the plant to the Philippine government, were met, he said.

Design, construction defects

Even if $1 billion is spent to rehabilitate the plant, this would not be enough to cure the defects because in the first place, there is no way of pinpointing where all these problems are, Perlas said.

“The design and construction problems of BNPP are frozen in concrete and steel,” he said.

Perlas served as technical consultant to the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant and the Presidential Commission on the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant, which commissioned the study.

Perlas said the there was no implementation of the Quality Assurance Program because there was no independent regulatory agency that oversaw the construction.

Nightmare scenario

He said that at the time the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission had minimal experience in nuclear regulation. And the energy department at the time was run by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ energy czar. Thus, the regulator had a conflict of interest.

“So it was very shady… This is where the corruption meets the technical and creates a nightmare scenario for the quality of the plant,” Perlas said.

If there should be an accident as a result of an earthquake, volcanic eruption, tsunami, faulty equipment or operator error, the resulting meltdown would cause an unspeakable disaster, he warned.

Millions of pesos were spent on the study which produced volumes and volumes of documents that are probably locked in the Senate’s vaults, Perlas said.

“In the end, they concluded that spending $1 billion will not be enough to safely operate the plant and that the BNPP should be mothballed permanently,” he said.

According to Perlas, the Senate committee and the presidential commission chose to make the findings of the study confidential because of the litigation over the plant.

Rightfully dead’

But now, there is no more reason to keep the findings under wraps and Cojuangco’s attempt to revive the plant was a good reason to make the study public, he said.

The documents should be released to the public so “all the wishful thinking about the safety and possible operation of BNPP would stop,” Perlas said.

“We cannot afford to waste another billion dollars on a project that is rightfully dead,” he said.

The 630-megawatt plant was built in 1976 at a cost of $500 million amid allegations that Westinghouse had paid bribes to Marcos to get the contract.

The Aquino administration closed down the plant because of safety concerns, and sued Westinghouse in the US for the return of the money paid for the plant. It lost the case in 1993.

In 2007, the Philippines finally paid off the cost of the plant at a final price tag of $2.3 billion.–Leila Salaverria, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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