I attended a Congressional hearing today (Feb. 2) held by the Committee on Appropriations on the bill “mandating the rehabilitation, commissioning and commercial operation of the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP)”. Safety concerns had led the Aquino government to mothball the BNPP in 1986, before it could start operations. Some congressmen now want the BNPP rehabilitated, after 22 years of non-operation.
The main proponent of the bill is Representative Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan, who spoke first, followed by a presentation by Ramon Orosa of Atoms for Peace and Dr. Carlo Arcilla of the National Institute of Geological Sciences of the University of the Philippines (NIGS-UP), who said his pro-nuclear position was a personal one and not the official position of the Institute. Rep. Ma. Milagros Magsaysay of Zambales also expressed her support.
For the oppositors, Rep. Edcel Lagman spoke first. Then, oppositor Rep. Erin Tanada of Quezon presented five resource persons to explain why they were against the bill: Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo also of NIGS-UP, Von Hernandez of Greenpeace International, former Rep. Etta Rosales of Akbayan/Freedom from Debt Coalition, Dr. Giovanni Tapang of the Institute of Physics of the University of the Philippines, and myself, representing the Philippine Greens. Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel also spoke in opposition. I consider Dr. Rodolfo’s presentation to be the most substantial in so far as the risk of operating the BNPP is concerned. His basic message: the BNPP site “has an unacceptably high risk of serious damage from earthquakes, volcanism, or both.”
It was clear from Cojuangco’s presentation that he had not done or commissioned any recent technical, economic or financial feasibility study to justify his proposal to rehabilitate the BNPP. Rep. Lagman had specifically asked if there were any such studies. I had also asked for them in my presentation, so that we could scrutinize their assumptions, arguments and conclusions. Cojuangco subsequently replied that studies have been done since U.S. president Eisenhower’s time as well as under Philippine president Marcos’ administration. Aside from these, all he could cite were some Wikipedia articles, quotes from Greenpeace renegade Patrick Moore and claims that identical NPPs in South Korea, Slovenia and Brazil were still running today with “impeccable safety records,” which was not quite true.
Despite the absence of any recent technical, economic or financial feasibility study to justify his bill, Cojuangco kept asserting that the BNPP would be safe and economical once recommissioned and wanted Congress to authorize that $1 billion be raised through a special surcharge on all electric power generated in the country and through domestic or foreign borrowings to finance the rehabilitation. It sounded like a very reckless approach to me, allotting the equivalent of P47 billion to a project without the benefit of prior study whether it was technically, economically or financially feasible.
Not only could Cojuangco present no recent feasibility study, his proposed bill and explanatory note also contained misrepresentations and false claims. I pointed out a few in my presentation entitled “BNPP Rehabilitation: More Questions Than Answers”. (In subsequent posts, I will dissect Cojuangco’s bill and explanatory notes more thoroughly.)
- The assertion that the Krsko, Angra 1 and Kori 2 nuclear plants have “impeccable safety records” is not true at all, as a simple search on the Internet will show. Krsko, for instance, just had a serious loss-of-coolant accident last June 4, 2008.
- The assertions citing Cabato et.al. about the last eruption of Mt. Natib, on which the BNPP stands, have been disowned by Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, one of the authors of the Cabato study, who accused Cojuangco of “abuse” and “distortion” of scientific data.
- The assertion of a 3,000 megawatt shortfall by 2012 is now highly questionable, given the deepening global recession affecting every country in the world.
- The assertion that no one else has died from an accident in any nuclear plant apart from Chernobyl is simply untrue, given at least six deaths that have occurred in NPP-related accidents in Japan alone.
In the hearing, I raised the question: how can we trust the rest of the assertions in the bill and its explanatory notes, when a casual browsing as we did immediately finds such questionable assertions? I got no satisfactory answer from Cojuangco.
I will post here Cojuangco’s verbatim replies once I get the hearing transcripts.
I found the conduct of the hearing by Rep. Junie Cua, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, quite even-handed. Given the number of congressmen who co-sponsored Cojuangco’s bill, however, there is a good chance it can pass through Congress, despite its cavalier approach of justifying a huge project costing $1 billion or more with empty assertions of safety and low cost unsubstantiated by expert studies. (Apparently Cojuangco did not even realize that Wikipedia articles and sound-bites from Greenpeace renegade Patrick Moore were not good enough.)
If Cojuangco’s incredible bill makes it, then only the Senate can save the nation from another monumental folly.