Friday, May 09, 2008


WAKING UP WHITEY. Thirty-two years after construction began on the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), Filipino taxpayers for the longest time have paid $155,000 a day on interests alone on a facility that has never produced a single watt of power. The BNPP was a promising solution by former President Ferdinand Marcos to the energy crisis that plagued us in the 1970s. And now, with the skyrocketing prices of oil, thoughts on the BNPP hound us again. It was then when the oil embargo had imposed a hevy burden on the economy, and Marcos' vision for our country saw nuclear power as the path toward meeting the country's future energy requirements and thus, lessening the country's dependence on foreign oil. Sounds familiar? Construction commenced in 1976 and finished in 1984 at a cost of $2.3 billion. However, the plant located 97 kilometers north of Manila had been the center of controversy from day one of its birth. When Marcos was overthrown in a popular revolt in 1986, a team of international inspectors visited the facility and declared it "unsafe and inoperable," claiming it had been built near major earthquake fault lines and near Mount Pinatubo, which at that time was as dormant as a satiated snake. And so, the first post-Marcos government of Corazon Aquino sealed the nuclear plant's fate for good when it banned the use of nuclear power, enshrining it even one step further in the Philippine Constitution. Debt repayment to the plant was the country's single biggest obligation. And although the plant has been in the market for takers for some decades now, it is unlikely for it to be sold with a reactor dating back to the 70s. But a South Korean company (them again??) once upon a time expressed interest in taking over the BNPP to develop it for commercial purposes - to put up an English-Korean school, a Korean grocery or a spa nearby perhaps? But again, a provision in our constitution simply ruled this out. The plant could be converted to utilize other kinds of fuel, and successive governments have looked at ways of converting it into oil, coal or gas-fired power stations. To convert the existing plant stands as an economic disadvantage. Certain sectors of society led by President Arroyo are perhaps toying on the idea of the Philippines going nuclear, or converting the plant into a fossil fuel power station, but past studies have shown that converting it is just too costly for the government. They'd rather use it somewhere else or pocket it, I suppose. Much of the technology infused into the plant was in the early 70s, but modified following the Three-Mile Island accident in the US in 1979. The plant itself is still being maintained despite never having been commissioned. Only commissions of the other kind materialized. For now, it could well be just another tourist attraction - a white elephant. But depending on one's opinion on the facility, it could solve our energy problems with Meralco and GSIS fighting it out for energy supremacy. Other than that, it could very well be the next Chernobyl, and depending on the government and its insatiable lust to hang on to power, for President Arroyo, these days may be new clear days for her, or nuclear days for us.

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