BNPP: Cojuangco persists in nuclear folly

Last March 5, the Committee on Appropriations of the Philippine Congress approved an amendment to the proposed bill that will rehabilitate and recommission the mothballed Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP).

The amendment funded a “feasibility study” or “validation process” that will determine through technical, economic and financial studies if the BNPP can indeed by operated safely after rehabilitation. The fund allotted was P100 million. Rep. Edcel Lagman, who pushed the fund, called it a “killer amendment” that will ensure that the nuclear plant will remain mothballed.

The response of BNPP proponent Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan to Lagman is interesting. This is what an Inquirer.net report says:

“The bill is not only alive, it is healthy,” Cojuangco said in a text message. “I know for a fact that, the plant can be brought back to its original [spefications]. It is a question of how much will it cost.”

Cojuangco’s incredible claim “for a fact” that the plant, which has been idle for more than 22 years, can be restored to its original specifications, clearly shows how the congressman from Pangasinan has lost his bearings and that the BNPP’s restoration has become, to him, a personal obsession. Whether such a restoration will succeed or not is a future event, for which there can be no 100% certainty. How can it be a fact?

But let us assume, for the sake of argument, that US$1 billion will be enough to actually restore the BNPP to its original specifications.

Apparently, Rep. Cojuangco does not even realize that restoring the nuclear plant to its original late 1970s specifications makes certain that the plant will not pass today’s nuclear safety standards.

From the 1980s, 1990s to the 2000s, all kinds of minor and major nuclear accidents have occurred, and safety standards have been updated to minimize the possibility of such accidents from recurring. For instance, volcanology as a science has grown by leaps and bounds since the 1980s, and new international safety guidelines have been drafted that govern the choice of sites, especially where volcanos are concerned. A powerful earthquake in July 2007 led to the closure for more than a year of Japan’s largest nuclear plant (see details here), because 400 drums filled with radioactive waste water tipped over and spilled their contents during the earthquake. We can be sure that safety standards were updated as a result of this accident.

So Rep. Cojuangco’s “fact” that the BNPP can be restored to its original specification is no guarantee that we will have spent our US$1 billion wisely. Yet, Cojuangco says he will still work for his bill’s approval in plenary.

Cojuangco’s irrational obsession with his pet bill will already cost Filipino taxpayers P100 million. If Cojuangco manages to convince his colleagues In Congress to approve his pet bill, Cojuangco’s folly will cost us at least $1 billion more.

At the end, we will have a nuclear plant that may still remain mothballed if it could not meet current nuclear safety standards.

What a waste!

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