Despite nuke crisis in Japan, science chief backs opening of BNPP

Published by rudy Date posted on March 17, 2011

MANILA, Philippines –  Amid the developing nuclear crisis in Japan, Science Secretary Mario Montejo expressed support for the opening of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) but stressed safety precautions should be implemented.

Unlike the power plants in the quake-hit Fukushima nuclear plants in Japan, Montejo said the BNPP was constructed to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis.

“From the technical side, the BNPP has also a containment chamber. So, that makes it similar (to nuclear power plants in Fukushima) but it uses a higher, a different kind of technology even better than the one in Japan,” Montejo said.

He said the design load for earthquake of the BNPP is more reliable.

“So our BNPP has better design for earthquake,” Montejo said.

According to Montejo, the BNPP at Napot Point in Morong, Bataan can still be fuelled and it only needs retrofitting.

Montejo, however, said the government would have to assess the situation in Fukushima and learn how to avoid a nuclear crisis before using the BNPP.

A massive tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake damaged the Fukushima Daiichi power plant last March 11, causing reactor fires, spewing large amounts of radioactive material into the air.

The BNPP was built during the term of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos to address the energy crisis that hit the country in the 1970s.

The power plant, completed in 1984 at $2.3 billion, was mothballed in 1986 after international experts declared it “unsafe and inoperable,” pointing out the BNPP was built near major earthquake fault lines and close to dormant volcanoes.

The BNPP, valued at P21.2 billion or $460 billion with an interest rate of P1.06 billion annually, never got off to produce a single watt of electricity.

Successive governments looked at ways of converting the nuclear plant into an oil, coal or gas-fired power station but found it too costly and expensive to maintain.

Malacañang bared it does not have any plans to use BNPP, particularly in the light of the dangers being posed by the accidents in the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan following last Friday’s powerful earthquake and tsunami.

Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said President Aquino had always expressed concern over the safety issues of running nuclear power plants.

Lacierda said Aquino is more inclined to develop alternative renewable sources of energy.

“There is a concern on the safety issues and this is made emphatic and dramatic by the incident right now in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor (in Japan). That is a concern and it is the policy of the President to consider other energy sources that do not have safety issues,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda added the recent study commissioned by the Department of Energy over the use of nuclear power did not necessarily mean the government would pursue a nuclear policy.

“That’s only a study and it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will put that into action. It is only a study for us to see and part of that study would also include addressing the safety issues…there are certain safety issues that have to be addressed before we can genuinely say that we are going on a nuclear energy policy,” he said.

“Right now, until those concerns are soundly addressed, the preference of the President is to use and explore other sources of energy,” Lacierda said.

Citing the Fukushima incident, Lacierda said that despite the use of modern technology, the Fukushima nuclear reactors failed, and now posing major health and environmental concerns.

Although there are layered containment shells, the reactors overheated, he said, noting that it would be easy to anticipate good performance theoretically but, incidents like the one that happened in Japan could occur when it came to the actual use.

Lacierda also said that even highly developed countries like Germany had put on hold its nuclear energy program.

“So if a First World country would do so certainly it should allow us to think on the proposal of using nuclear energy,” he said.

Some of big local businessmen are proposing the establishment of nuclear power plants as a response to a looming energy problem as the country develops.

The proposals involved cooperation with other countries like South Korea and Japan.

Lacierda said Montejo was only talking about the technical design of the mothballed BNPP but was not espousing its use.

Montejo, meanwhile, said they are planning to install more tsunami early warning devices along coastal areas in the Philippines.

He said only one tsunami warning system has been installed in Lubang Island.

Montejo said installing the devices would give residents at least 15-minute warning to evacuate to higher ground.

“It has a siren and you are given a few minutes to evacuate,” he said. –Helen Flores, Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star)

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