Clear minds should decide whether we go nuclear or not
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-03-27
Knee jerk reactions tend to emanate from baseless assumptions and wrongly conditioned minds. Often, knee jerk reactions are instances when emotions have prevailed over reason. In some cases, these are the results of the lie told too often and had been assumed to be the truth.

Take the case of many of those whining and wailing Filipino Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) in politically troubled countries like Libya and Bahrain and disaster hit areas like Northeastern Japan. Many had this knee jerk reaction of wanting to immediately leave their place of employment without as much as considering if the civil strife as in the case of Libya and Bahrain would really affect them.

The more pathetic of them are those from Northeastern Japan because they really have other options in that country where they can relocate and find employment. Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka and the other Japanese cities were not devastated. Radiation fallout from the Fukushima nuclear plant accident is not expected to affect these other cities. Still, many Filipinos in Japan allowed their fears to get the better of them and rushed home.

Now, we have the anti nuclear advocates who are utilizing the Fukushima nuclear plant’s breakdown to further promote their anti nuclear bias. Former Pangasinan Representative Mark Cojuangco has been a lone voice crying in the Philippine information wilderness, trying to inject balance in the assessment of nuclear energy in the light of the Fukushima accident.

Way before the Fukushima problem, Mark Cojuangco had been pushing for the activation of mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) and he had presented good reasons for his proposal. With decades of experience now in utilizing nuclear energy, the world can better appreciate if nuclear energy is indeed safe and reliable. 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 radiation 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. In Fukushima , it was the tsunami that caused the accident and not the earthquake.

It must also be understood that the often cited Chernobyl and the Three Mile Island accidents happened in two different types of nuclear power plants. 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 is the radiation fallout that is to be feared.

The Three Mile Island meltdown 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 from the BNPP like what happened in Chernobyl as it will automatically and immediately shut down to prevent meltdown.
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 little known.

The over magnified fears have succeeded in concealing these positive facts:

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 over 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.

Asked about the BNPP in the light of the Fukushima accident, Mark Cojuangco shared these views:

“If BNPP was actually in Fukushima, none of this would have happened.

For one, BNPP is built on a hilltop, 18 meters above sea level. The tsunami would never have touched it.

BNPP is designed to a seismic load of 0.40 G. Fukushima to 0.18 G. Meaning, if Fukushima did not crumble, in spite of the fact that the earthquake was stronger than its design basis, than so much more for BNPP which has a much higher design basis. It’s hard to imagine, and I doubt if there is scientific basis, for an even stronger earthquake to be expected to hit the Philippines .

Fukushima is a BWR, with only one cooling circuit. BNPP is a PWR with two separate and distinct cooling circuits. PWR is the choice for approx 70% of Nuclear Power Plants in the US .

The BNPP is our only means to a more competitive energy future. And, our only affordable door to enter the nuclear age, with a publicly owned facility.”

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 nuclear power as a source of energy with an open and sober mind and verify if these claimed safety factors, benefits and advantages are indeed true.

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