Is the Filipino capable of unlearning?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2009-07-26

Few folks realize that one of the biggest impediments to greater learning is the inability to unlearn. Unlearning requires a broad mind to appreciate that what one has been thinking is either wrong or has been rendered no longer valid by new developments.

Nations rise and fall by their ability to unlearn counterproductive mindsets and quickly adapt to new realities. Japan and Nazi Germany were razed when they embarked on an imperial binge during World War II. They rose from the ground after they unlearned the folly of autocratic rule and the use of war as a state policy. They then excelled in the ways of peace and democracy. Today, Japan and Germany are two of the most prosperous democracies in the world.

The United States of America is a great country and a superpower largely because of their ability to unlearn old counterproductive mindsets and pioneer in new approaches and technologies. The US shift from an imperial Bush administration to an enlightened Obama administration is but one example of the admirable American capacity for self renewal.

Sadly, we Filipinos are sorely lacking in that ability to unlearn counterproductive concepts. A good example of this is the way many Filipinos are still stuck to their over two-decades old bias against nuclear energy - specifically the proposal to update and operate the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP).

The knee jerk reaction of many to the proposal to operate the mothballed BNPP centers on the following issues:

1. The BNPP was constructed near an earthquake fault which then poses the risk of having a possible fallout or meltdown should the plant encounter earthquake forces and shears.

2. The expected nuclear waste will threaten the environment and the communities.

3. Being over two decades old, the BNPP is now nearing wear out point and is therefore considered high risk.

In the 1970s and the 1980s, the fears of an accident resulting in radiation fallout or a meltdown were certainly valid. At the time the BNPP was being built, the Chernobyl and the Three Mile Island nuclear power plants had their accidents. The negative reactions to operating the BNPP were further heightened by the then Opposition’s use of the issue against the unpopular Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.

Your Chair Wrecker was one of those who protested the operation of the BNPP based on the givens of that period. However, the old mindset about the BNPP changed after a discussion over lunch last year at The Manila Club with an old friend — Butch Valdes (head of the Philippine LaRouche Society) — who shared new vital and verifiable inputs which provoked deeper inquiry.

Between 1985 and now, we have benefited from the historical track record of so many other similar Western commercial nuclear power plants all over the world. There have also been a lot of technological developments which enable us today to better manage this type of energy and contain its risks.

For instance, the concern about possible fallout that can be caused by earthquake forces and shears turned out to be a misplaced fear. The truth is the nuclear power plant can’t be affected by an earthquake unless it is mistakenly constructed right on top of an active earthquake fault — which the BNPP is not.

The BNPP design has factored all possible seismic consequences. The nearest active fault (the Iba, Zambales fault) is 65 kilometers away from the BNPP and this is too far to cause a meltdown in the BNPP.

It must also be understood that the Chernobyl and the Three Mile Island accidents happened in two different types of nuclear power plants. There is an enormous difference between meltdown and fallout. A meltdown is contained.

The Chernobyl Russian-made plant encountered radiation fallout because of a design failure. The wrong material was used for an important operating section.

The Three Mile Island is a Western commercial nuclear power plant similar to the BNPP. Meltdown and not radiation fallout was what occurred there. It was caused by human error when the automatic, immediate shutdown mode was mistakenly disabled. A redesign has since prevented future meltdowns — thereafter resulting in the impressive track record of this type of nuclear plant.

Designed similarly to the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, there can be no radiation fallout like what happened in Chernobyl and the BNPP will automatically and immediately shut down to prevent meltdown.

The feared BNPP nuclear waste or spent fuel is again an over magnified fear that thrives on ill-informed minds. The nuclear waste of the BNPP is neither a liquid nor dust residue.

Liquid waste can pour into the ground and seep into our water sources while dust residue can pollute our air.

The BNPP spent fuel is a non-soluble solid ceramic pellet that is encased in zirconium cladding. There has not been a single case of environmental contamination in the world resulting from the waste of a Western type commercial nuclear power plant like the BNPP.

Regarding the age of the BNPP, few realize that nuclear power plants are aged by the number of years it has been operating and are not affected by the number of years it has remained idle like the BNPP. In fact, the New Jersey Oyster Creek (built in 1964) Western commercial type nuclear power plant in the US had recently been given another 20 years to continue its operation (after 40 years of operation). It will likely be extended for another 20 years after the extension to 2029 expires.

While the most commonly used arguments against the use of the BNPP are either factually debunked or proven to be mythical — the advantages of the BNPP are largely unheard and little known.

The over magnified fears have succeeded in concealing the positive facts that:

1. Nuclear energy is the cheapest and cleanest energy available today. Compare the average P2.50 per kilowatt hour wholesale selling price of the BNPP if it is operating today with the current average wholesale NAPOCOR selling price of P4.50 (and going up) per kilowatt hour. Imagine how that will reduce your power bill.

2. In terms of production waste, the BNPP is estimated to generate 17 tons a year. Now compare that to the 110,000 (to as much as 400,000) tons of annual waste from coal sourced energy (depending on the quality of the coal used) which contains heavy metal and radioactive materials.

3. This will surprise many — US Secretary of Energy and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Steve Chu attests that “A coal plant is 100 times more radioactive than a nuclear plant.” Did you know that this was the case even while the Three Mile Island meltdown accident was happening?

4. Our investment in reviving the BNPP is recovered after just five years of operation. That means we’ll enjoy even lower costing energy after the investment has been recovered.

The Philippine economy cannot attain recovery or growth if the problem of the high cost of energy is not solved. One of the major reasons why foreign investors shy away from the Philippines is our high cost of energy. We owe it to ourselves and our children to look into this problem with an open mind and verify if these benefits and advantages of the BNPP are true.

To move forward, there are many things that Filipinos must unlearn. The bias against the BNPP is one of them.

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

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A great disservice to P-Noy

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