There is talk that as oil runs out, the Philippines may need to go nuclear in the future. Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes says his office is currently studying the nuclear option. More than a year ago, I wrote about this issue in a piece I presented in a round-table discussion sponsored by the business community. That discussion included the late Geronimo Velasco, Philippine energy minister when the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was being built, during the time of President-turned-authoritarian Ferdinand Marcos.
I post the piece here, for the benefit of those who want to look at the matter further. I did not go deeply into all the reasons why I thought the nuclear option was wrong for the Philippines, but focused on some arguments which I thought were not often raised.
Nuclear power in the Philippines: a second opinion
by Roberto Verzola
All issues, especially one as complex and multi-faceted as nuclear power, have to be seen from many perspectives. I carry the perspective of an electrical engineer who had actively opposed the introduction of nuclear power in the Philippines in the 1980s and is still opposed to the idea today.
Among many arguments, I would like the share with the audience the following three:
1. Nuclear power is prone to authoritarian methods. The nature of nuclear power encourages a highly centralized, high-security, secretive bureaucracy. Nuclear power projects are by their very nature large-scale projects. In addition, they involve materials which are not only extremely harmful to human health, but can also be used for weapons of mass destruction. Two influential authors, E.F. Schumacher (Small is Beautiful) and Amory Lovins (Soft Energy Paths) have made the argument that it is the nature of nuclear power itself that makes its implementors prone to authoriarianism. A simple example: the government continues to keep secret the ten potential sites for its nuclear power program. The bureaucracy behind nuclear power is basically anti-democratic.
2. Nuclear power attracts corruption. The extremely high cost of even a single nuclear power project will attract corrupt contractors, suppliers and bureaucrats like flies to garbage. We Filipinos paid more than $5 billion for this lesson. Have things changed? Look at other government mega-projects: from election automation to international airport construction, from the mega-dikes to the Macapagal Highway. With a nuclear power plant, can you imagine the consequences of sub-standard materials and construction?
3. Nuclear power projects are highly divisive. The unresolved nuclear safety issues and the so-far insoluble problem of nuclear waste disposal will attract long-term opposition from many sectors (affected communities, environmentalists, activists of various colors, clean energy advocates, losing bidders, and perhaps even the wives and daughters of nuclear power advocates). Anti-nuclear opposition will emerge from the woodworks to block the projects at every step of the way. The nuclear power project will split the country.
A nuclear power plant, if it is successful, may have a useful life of a few decades. It will, however, create a 100,000-year waste management problem which, I will argue, is beyond human scale. Given the many alternatives, going nuclear is madness.
July 6, 2007