DOST still bullish on nuclear power, why?

Published by rudy Date posted on March 18, 2011

IF your cable TV was tuned in to ANC Wednesday morning, the rest of your day was probably ruined by Secretary Mario Montejo of the Department of Science and Technology (DOTC).

The government’s top scientist proclaimed in an interview that he still favors the proposal to operate the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant in Morong, Bataan. Mothballed since 1985, the plant was not allowed to go on stream due to serious safety concerns—including the fact that it sits atop an earthquake fault near Manila Bay.

The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima power plant, triggered by last Friday’s magnitude-8.9 temblor and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan, has not shaken Montejo’s faith in nuclear energy.
“Nuclear power is a safe, economical source of power,” the DOST chief said on ANC. “You have to [look] at it in relative terms. Our power rates are too high. The only way to bring it down is to use nuclear power.”

Nuclear energy is cheap? Haven’t we been told often enough, especially by nuclear power proponents, that power rates in the Philippines are the highest in Asia—next only to Japan’s?

Environmental groups the world over have been campaigning against nuclear energy for decades. The arguments they present are certainly more persuasive than Montejo’s claims.

Greenpeace, for instance, points out that Japan—which has 54 nuclear reactors, 11 of which have been shut down since March 11—still has one of the highest, if not the highest, costs of electricity in our part of the world.

Another nation that has gone nuclear in a big way is France, which depends on 58 reactors for 83 percent of its electricity needs. France, in fact, is the world’s largest nuclear energy user. However, Greenpeace points out, “looking at [France’s] economic development for the last 40 years with comparable countries that have made very different energy choices reveal that no competitive advantage can be attributed to nuclear power.”

In fact, we should thank our lucky stars that our past leaders had been sensitive to the outcry against the Bataan nuclear power plant. Construction of the facility began in the late 1970s on orders of then President Ferdinand Marcos. By November 1985 it was ready to go online until serious concerns were raised about the plant’s safety—enough to convince even the dictator to hold its opening in abeyance.

Three months afterward the dictatorship was toppled and President Cory Aquino was persuaded to shut down the Bataan plant permanently.

Twenty-six years later, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology announced that parts of Luzon are “ripe” for a major earthquake. While the West Valley (formerly called Marikina Valley) Fault may seem some distance away from Bataan, responsible scientists do not discount the possibility that the coming “Big One” would also shake up other parts of the country’s main island.

Yet, here comes Montejo spouting questionable statements like, “The assumption is [the BNPP] is much stronger than the one in Japan.” Huh? Or rather, duh?

I tried to find out via Google what Montejo’s scientific credentials are. What I discovered did little to change my initial impression that he does not know what he is talking about.

One of the websites I found had this to say: “Mario G. Montejo is the current Philippine Secretary of Science and Technology. On June 29, 2010, President Benigno Aquino III picked him as his Secretary of Science and Technology. In describing Montejo during the announcement of his Cabinet appointment . . . , Aquino . . . said Montejo’s team was responsible for the featured slides and waves at the water amusement park Water Fun using Filipino technology.”

Another website claims: “Mario Montejo was the president of Northwest Steel [NS Inc.]. NS prides itself as the inventor of a fully automatic ‘robotic’ parking facility . . . He was also a president of Tree Top Adventure Philippines Inc. . . which specializes in eco-tourism theme parks . . . He has a BS in Mechanical Engineering degree from the College of Engineering [CoE], UP Diliman. He has no postgraduate training… [but] he is one of the ’100 Outstanding Alumni Engineers of the Century’ of the CoE . . . He was awarded a Gold Medal Award for Creative Research from the Filipino Inventors Society Inc. for his automatic parking invention. His other inventions include: the first locally made GSM-based water sensor and rain gauge that can be used for monitoring and forecasting; a steel pole design that is now used by Meralco, Napocor, and the National Electrification Administration; gabions (cylinders filled with soil) used for slope protection and used extensively now by National Irrigation Administration . . . Add also the special zip-line he designed in one of the eco-theme parks.”

Chilling indeed is the thought that a theme-park developer could influence the formulation of the country’s energy policy—even if it carries the likelihood of plunging us into a nuclear catastrophe.

Ironically, Montejo’s obstinate endorsement of nuclear energy came just days after other supporters of nuclear power—notably former Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco—acknowledged the need for a “moratorium” on their own pro-nuke campaign.

A moratorium, however, does not go far enough, according to environmental advocates.

Greenpeace has called on the Aquino administration to junk the nuclear option in the Philippine Energy Plan, the Energy Reform Agenda and similar plans, and “instead focus on achieving long term sustainable progress through safe and reliable renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.”
It also “challenged legislators, particularly those who have just this week reversed their pro-nuclear stance, to author a bill that would declare the Philippines a nuclear energy-free zone.”

“Our thoughts remain with the Japanese people, who in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami are now faced with a dreadful situation, where instead of being able to plough all resources into rescue and relief efforts, the government is dealing with a crisis caused by the inherent and inescapable risks of nuclear power,” said Amalie Obusan, climate and energy campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

“It is unfortunate that Philippine nuclear proponents need a tragedy such as the one unfolding in Japan, for them to reflect on their dangerous propositions. But they should go beyond merely statements that they are reconsidering their position on nuclear energy, or are putting a moratorium on their nuclear proposals. Nuclear power should be removed from the country’s current and future energy plans: it should be deleted from the energy agenda, and there should be legislation to block all future nuclear proposals,” she added. –DAN MARIANO, Manila Times

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