$2.3B Philippine nuclear power plant: A quick critical view

This $2.3B-cost Philippine nuclear power plant issue is seemingly evocative to ponder upon this unequivocal question. Precisely, because the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) is supposed to be the only nuclear power plant operating in the Philippines.

BNPP, located at the foot of Mt. Natib in Morong, Bataan, was a project initiated by then President Ferdinand Marcos and commenced its construction in 1976 to address the 1973 oil crisis. Westinghouse undertook the construction for almost nine years; completed in 1985.

Philippine nuclear power plant solution turns out a hoax

Disclosed in one of his interviews in 2016, former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile serving as Defense Minister of President Marcos, claimed that one of the top secrets for the BNPP construction was actually to serve as an avenue for the production of nuclear weapons (archived from the original article published here, retrieved 10-20-2020).

According to Enrile, should the Philippines had produced nuclear weapons as early as that time, the Philippines should have been the first Asian country to have nuclear weapons ahead of China, Japan, and North Korea.

Enrile also said, correlating with our present West Philippine Sea dispute with China, that perhaps China would not dare to challenge or even “bully” us should we have already prepared with nuclear weapons ahead of them.

$2.3 billion taxpayers’ money wasted outright

In 1986, when President Corazon Aquino assumed office, BNPP administration was transferred to the National Power Corporation. Subsequently, Aquino decided to halt the actual operation of the power plant because of the Chernobyl disaster1, as well as the estimated 4,000 defects in the power plant design and construction and the disapproval of the majority of the Filipinos particularly the Bataan residents.

Needless to say, the taxpayers’ money amounting to $2.3 billion spent on its construction was put into waste. Also, the government failed to respond to its primary objective to addressing the prevailing oil and electricity crises as it was reported that BNPP could have supplied electrical power for at least 10% of the Northern Philippines should it became operational.

Unmasking the issue: Through the lens of business ethics approach

Is Philippine nuclear power plant worth operating?

This enormous $2.3B-cost Philippine nuclear power plant operations would be better understood by scrutinizing the issues through the four ethical principles in business, namely, utilitarianism, rights, justice, and care ethics.

Utilitarianism Approach

The common good principle connotes weighing social costs and benefits. Simply put, do the advantages of a nuclear power plant outweigh the disadvantages?

For financial and economic concerns, it is likely impractical to revive the Philippine nuclear power plant considering the annual national budget.

Rep. Mark Cojuangco, one of the proponents of House Bill No. 46312, said that the mere rehabilitation alone of BNPP would cost an estimated amount of US$1 billion3.

However, Cojuangco proposed that half of the US$1 billion would be sourced from an additional charge to consumers by utility companies, while the other half would come from massive loans—a grim scenario of passing an additional burden on the taxpayers—a deviation from the government’s primary responsibility and duty to uplifting the Filipinos’ standards of living by one way or another, including subsidy.

Moreover, where could the government secure a loan to finance its operation? It must be noted that the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have since not yet funding any nuclear power plant development.

Former Energy Sec. Jericho Petilla disclosed in an interview that should the government push through with its operation, public bidding would be held among private sectors.

Simply put, it is quite obvious that the Philippine nuclear power plant is financially impotent at present. Consequently, the prevailing bidder could dictate its rates without government intervention to the detriment of the Filipino consumers.

Rights

Although the 1987 Philippine Constitution provides for non-self-executing provisions, such as freedom from nuclear weapons4, protection, promotion, and instilling the right to health and health consciousness5 and the right to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature6, every Filipino, regardless of his residence and proximity to the proposed site, may seek for the enforcement of such rights before the court citing the impending disasters, such as the Chernobyl in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disasters in Japan in 20117.

It must be recalled that these accidents have brought the greatest nuclear catastrophe that killed 31 people, displaced at least 500,000 workers with an estimated cost of 18 billion rubles, and has impacted long-term effects, such as cancers among its victims.

Justice

Justice or the compensation for the damages should devastations occur is one of the most compelling assertions.

As a third world country that is continuously facing tremendous pressing issues, a deep and comprehensive analysis must be sought and cautiously implemented.

An in-depth cost-benefit analysis helps us decide the desirability of the Philippine nuclear power plant by evaluating its present and future economic benefits versus its present and future economic costs.

Considering the study of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, the procurement of uranium fuel for the operational cost shows that it is not cost-effective for the country. Their report claimed that uranium for BNPP would have to be imported as there were no uranium deposits in the Philippines. It means large price hikes as the country will become dependent on a fuel resource that is only available to a few countries.

Care Ethics

This principle simply means for the concrete well-being of Filipinos.

A nuclear reactor could produce much more power per unit than other conventional energy sources like coal and oil.

Other disadvantages should likewise be cautiously considered, such as mishaps at nuclear plants, massive contamination problems similar to what happened in Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington that contaminated the Columbia River, much constraint security risk due to vulnerability to terrorist attacks, and a nuclear meltdown that releases massive amounts of radiation causing cancer and other ailments and damage to our marine life resources.

Renewable energy resources—the best deal

Wind energy as one of the renewable energy resources in  the Philippines proven to be cost-effective.

Obviously, the Philippine nuclear power plant initiative lacks wholistic preparedness.

While the objective of the proposed nuclear plant sounds appealing, the impact is still disturbing and uncomforting financially, economically, and most importantly in our well-being.

The government, rather, may continue the Interruptible Load Program (ILP)8 started by the Department of Energy (DoE) and the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) that was intended for the projected electricity crisis. ILP has been found successful in alleviating tight power supply situations.

For the long-term emphasis, the government may direct investments in renewable power generators and efficient energy technologies, such as solar photovoltaic, concentrated solar thermal, wind, biomass, geothermal heat, and hydroelectric power plants.

Likewise, with the enactment of the Renewable Energy Law and the well-established renewable energy potentials9, it has been proven that renewable energies are the cheapest, most reliable, and the safest source of power generation—the cleanest energy proven to have produced energies with the least greenhouse gases and reportedly with negative implications. ▲

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1 The Chernobyl disaster (also referred to as the Chernobyl accident) was a catastrophic nuclear accident that occurred on April 26, 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the city of Pripyat, then located in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of the Soviet Union (USSR). Explosions and fire transpired that resulted to the released of large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over the western USSR and Europe. It was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history in terms of cost and casualties.
2 “Mandating the immediate rehabilitation, commissioning and commercial operation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, and appropriating funds therefore.”
3 Based on the Napocor’s report citing the financial plan of Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), the construction/rehabilitation cost is US$1 billion but, if other expenses representing costing for operations and maintenance (for uranium fuel), water storage and decommissioning will be included, an estimated amount of US$3.3 billion must be allocated. Also, the development of a nuclear regulator as mandated by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), where the Philippines is one of the Member States, is not yet included in the US$1 billion proposed budget.
4 The Philippines, consistent with the national interest, adopts and pursues a policy of freedom from nuclear weapons in its territory (Section 8, Article II).
5 Section 15, ibid.
6 Section 16, ibid.
7 The two nuclear disasters were classified Level 7 event (the maximum classification) based on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
8 Under the said program, customers with large electric loads like commercial establishments (i.e., malls and factories) were to operate their own generator sets or stand-by generation facilities to help mitigate the energy supply deficiency in the Philippines until new capacities become available on the grid. Companies who participated in the said program will be compensated during the instances of power supply deficit. Among those companies who participated with Meralco are Megaworld, Ayala Land, Robinsons Land, Shangri-La Mall, SM Prime Holdings, Metro Gaisano, and Waltermart.
9 Wind and solar energy plants in Ilocos Norte and Cagayan de Oro are the concrete examples of the Philippines’ renewable energy potentials.

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