There is another compelling reason why the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP) should not be recommissioned.
It needs a little backgrounder, though.The details below can be found in the book Debts of Dishonor Vol. 1 (1991). The book contains a study entitled “The Philippine Nuclear Power Plant: Plunder on a Large Scale”, which I had co-authored with journalist Ed Santoalla and researcher Mae Buenaventura.
On April 30, 1986, three months after they assumed power thanks to a peaceful people’s uprising, Cory Aquino and her cabinet arrived at a unanimous decision not to operate the BNPP for safety reasons. The decision must have also been hastened by the Chernobyl nuclear accident, which had occurred on April 26, just four days earlier.
Saddled with a multi-billion dollar while elephant, the Aquino government also decided to look at various legal avenues for redress, given that people in government knew how commissions had been paid by Westinghouse to some top government officials to ensure that it got the contract, not its competitor, General Electric.
For this purpose — I am quoting from our study now — “the Aquino administration created the Presidential Committee on the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant (PC-PNPP) to study the legal options available to it in connection with the decision to mothball the nuclear plant.”
One of the things the Committee did was to commission a U.S. nuclear consultancy firm, NUS Corporation, “to organize and manage a technical audit of the plant.”
“The audit was actually conducted by an NUS-assembled international and multidisciplinary team of over 15 nuclear experts from the US, Germany, Brazil, South Korea and Japan. … The team looked into the field implementation of the plant design, quality assurance and control, and construction practices, among others. It also visited the plant site, interviewed the personnel of the PNPP, PAEC [Philippine Atomic Energy Commission] and AIEA [the international agency for atomic energy], and inspected and reviewed all documents pertaining to the facility.”
Six major audit findings were highlighted by the audit team:
- deficient fire protection systems,
- unusually large number of field change notices or FCNs,
- test programs that do not meet local and foreign standards of acceptability,
- safety-related electrical components do not meet physical separation requirements,
- anchor bolts and baseplate installations do not meet regulatory standards, and
- potential seismic interaction problems endanger the safety of the plant.
I will focus on the second and third audit findings. The second “suggested that controls over design changes and installation of components in accordance with appropriate criteria were inadequate.” According to the third finding, “some systems were not tested thoroughly. The scope and design of some tests were inadequate. Some systems were tested in isolation from other systems with which they normally interact.”
One of the technical consultants to the Committee, as well as to a Senate ad hoc committee on the BNPP, Nicanor Perlas, has come out in the media last February 9 with a very powerful argument why the BNPP should not be recommissioned. Perlas says, referring also to the study above, that “the plant’s most serious defect concerned its Quality Assurance Programme, which the experts found to be sloppy and below regulatory standards. This meant that there was no way to determine if the strict, precise procedures in the construction of a nuclear plant were followed which would have ensured that the plant was safe and the design specifications of Westinghouse Electric Corp., which sold the plant to the Philippine government, were met.” You can find the full story about Nicky Perlas here.
This is the most important part of Nicky’s argument: he says that according to the NUS report (we should try to get a copy of this report), the BNPP subcontractors made very poor documentation of the BNPP construction process — not enough to prove that the construction process followed the strict international standards required of nuclear plants. So, it cannot be established from the records kept by the subcontractors if the BNPP was safely built or not.
I’ll give one example of what this means: suppose the specifications said that the reinforced concrete must use steel rebars at least 2 inches in diameter. The use of the 2″ rebars during construction work must be well-documented so that any subsequent review can establish that the design specifications were actually met. Once the construction is done, these steel rebars will be buried or encased in feet of concrete, and there is no way anymore to check if indeed 2″ rebars were used. What Nicky is saying is that there very poor documentation about these things.
So this means that after we spend $1 billion to rehabilitate the plant, upgrade all equipment, replace ageing parts, etc. etc., when we then apply to the IAEA and other international bodies for the permission to operate, they will in turn ask us to establish that the specifications were met. Of course, as explained above, this is not possible anymore because of poor documentation.
So, we will have spent another $1 billion, on top of the $5 billion plus already spent, including interest, for a plant that will most probably not get a permit to operate. Of course, a political decision can be made to allow it, despite lack of documentation.
However, the IAEA can be expected to be very strict about these things. All it takes is another major accident to trigger another round of stricter standards nuclear plants worldwide, which will make entire global nuclear industry to grind to a halt and to spend billions of dollars more just to meet such new standards.
I can’t imagine the Philippine Congress approving such an astoundingly ill-considered proposal to recommission the BNPP. Unless, perhaps, some members of Congress, browsing quickly at the bill’s title, vote to approve because they misunderstood the word “recommissioning”, if you know what I mean.