Dangerous déjà vu

Published by rudy Date posted on March 22, 2009

THE BILL “Mandating the Immediate Rehabilitation, Commissioning, and Commercial Operation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant” is moot. There’s no way that it could and should be executed.

Let’s cut to the chase: the site – Napot Point, Morong, Bataan – has an unacceptably high risk of serious damage from earthquakes, volcanism, or both. While the proponents have produced no serious and exhaustive study to prove the site’s safety, numerous studies were already there to attest otherwise. Some examples:

Shortly after the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) construction started, nuclear technologists Elmer C. Hernandez and Gabriel Santos Jr. submitted a report in 1977, revealing “high probability earth motions associated with earthquakes due to the Manila Trench-West Luzon Trough displacements and presence of a probable fault in the plant location itself [that] may lend to structural failures causing the release of radioactive materials from the nuclear power plant or may cause extensive damage to the plant.”

The dangers that earthquakes posed to the BNPP were indeed recognized very early, but were apparently ignored as construction proceeded.

In 1979, Professor Ernesto Sonido, of the University of the Philippines’ Diliman Department of Geology and Geography, was asked by the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission to investigate the site further. Likewise, the report “…suggest[s] that the area had been tectonically active…”

While he was still at the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), Dr. Ronnie Torres, a foremost expert in pyroclastic flows who is now at the University of Hawaii, warned of volcanism and faulting at the site in a 1992 report titled “The vulnerability of BNPP site to the hazards of Natib volcano.” (Phivolcs Observer Vol. 8 No. 3: 1-4)

Dr. Torres said, “Natib volcano does not erupt very often but could still erupt.” As a rough rule of thumb, the longer a volcano is in repose, the more time it has to store eruptive energy, and thus, the stronger the eventual eruption.

In 2000, Dr. Ernesto Sonido collaborated with Jesse Umbal to submit an exhaustive, 38-page analysis of the geology and geohazards of the Subic Bay area, which adjudged Natib as “potentially active.”

It is important to recognize that Natib, like Pinatubo, is a “caldera-forming” volcano, characteristically having very powerful eruptions separated by long repose periods. The report documented two Natib eruptions that formed large calderas, one with a diameter more than twice as big as that of the new caldera on Pinatubo.

Sonido and Umbal also studied the system of faults exposed on land in the larger region. They estimated the recurrence period for earthquakes of magnitude 6.4 to 7.0 at 22 years; of magnitude 7.0 to 7.3 at 59 years; and of magnitude 7.3 to 8.2 at 157 years.

While a number of these studies have been present all along, the only attention paid to the natural hazards in the area was in the “Explanatory Note” of the original House Bill 4631, which sadly has been misinterpreted, consciously or not, by proponent Representative Mark Cojuangco. Nevertheless, his take is in serious error.

Even a casual reading of the Cabato et al. 2005 study reveals a much greater potential danger, one from earthquakes. Being one of the authors, we have documented numerous faults in Subic Bay, some very recently active, geologically speaking.

Since January 2009, technicians from the Korea Electric Power Corp. (Kepco) have been studying the plant itself. However, the results of the previous studies, such as the Puno commission report in 1980 and the international group National Union of Scientists’ finding of more than 2,000 defects in the plant’s design and construction (which are more than enough to conclude that the plant is unsafe), were deliberately overlooked.

There are other very strong grounds to believe that the BNPP’s revival is a bad idea.

First, we have no uranium ore in the Philippines, and no hope of finding any. Reviving the plant means we would expend a huge amount of money only to put ourselves at the mercies of countries that have uranium, much as we have made ourselves utterly dependent on petroleum-exporting companies.

Also, nuclear energy produces wastes that remain toxic for hundreds of thousand of years. The problem of waste disposal has not been solved by any country, not even the United States.

Finally, the additional burden government imposes on the Filipino people, who have so much to bear already, is unacceptable.

The Filipino taxpayer has already paid $2.3 billion for the plant, plus $460 million in interest, without receiving any benefit. Now it is proposed to spend another $1 billion to renovate it. With the current administration plagued by corruption to implement this billion-dollar project, the circumstance would be truly worse than déjà vu.

Kelvin S. Rodolfo is convenor of Network Opposed to Bataan Nuclear Power Plant Revival! (NO to BNPP Revival!) –Kelvin S. Rodolfo, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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