Category Archives: Energy

How Metro Manila can avoid brownouts this summer

How we can avoid brownouts
this summer without spending P450 million

by Roberto Verzola

[The author will launch his book Crossing Over: The Energy Transition to Renewable Electricity this March 23, 2015, 9 a.m., at The Patio of the UP Hotel, at the University of the Philippines, Diliman Campus. The book was published by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung of Germany. The author may be reached at 0939-117-8999 or See for details.]
The government is preparing for a 2015 power crisis. This crisis, according to the testimony of Department of Energy Assistant Director Irma Exconde before Congress last October 2014, is basically a 31-megawatt shortfall in supply for around two critical weeks in April.

The government’s solution is the Interruptible Load Program (ILP), which will subsidize the expenses of large companies who have their own generators, if these have to be run due to impending brownouts. The estimated cost of the ILP program: around P450 million, charged to electricity consumers. (See Jess Diaz, “ILP to cost power consumers P450 M,” Philippine Star, Nov. 21, 2014.)1

March is now ending. Early mornings are still cool, but warming. The truly hot summer can start anytime soon. We probably still have a week or so before the crisis begins to be felt.

Here is a simple way to prevent brownouts from occurring in Metro Manila. Other electric utilities and cooperatives can use the approach too, if at least one TV station covers their service area.

Imagine a screen that shows the available electricity supply in megawatts (MW) as a horizontal line near the top of the screen. Imagine the actual demand, also in MW, tracing another graph on the same screen─in realtime─from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. The 24-hour load curve of Meralco in shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Meralco’s 24-hour load curve
meralco load curve
This is not difficult to do. I have seen such displays in the offices of suppliers of electricity. I am sure the Department of Energy can produce such a display.

Now, imagine the trace of the actual demand inching up, as we rise in the morning, turn on some appliances and do our chores. Later in the morning, the graph rises faster, as the people arrive in their offices, turn on the lights, the airconditioning, and their computers, and as factories and workplaces start up machines and other electrical equipment. As the sun rises higher in the sky, more aircons and electric fans are turned on; aircons work harder.

The demand curve is now approaching the horizontal supply curve. The drama is building up.

Now, imagine television stations broadcasting the same screen, and the Secretary of Energy─or the President himself─explaining on TV that each individual can do something to prevent a brownout. They only need to turn off some of their less important electrical loads: lights in unused rooms, along corridors; one of three electric fans, postponing ironing to off-peak hours, and so on. Some will surely respond, especially if a prior media build up had been orchestrated earlier. One million responses─each turning off a 40-watt or so load (one fluorescent or incandescent lamp, one electric fan, or one computer)─is more than enough to cover the 31-MW shortfall.

As the responses come in, the demand curve takes a noticeably less steep path, but it keeps approaching the supply line. The tension is becoming almost unbearable. On radio and TV, the Secretary sends out another desperate appeal. Seeing that their actions did have some effect on the curve, people will respond some more, and urge others to act too. A critical mass of people now realize that it is better turn off some appliances on your own, than lose all power. Text messages fly, urging participation.

Watching the demand curve now feels like watching, live on TV, a typhoon that is about to hit. but it is also swerving, thanks to people’s earlier responses. Thus, more will be encouraged to join in, or to do more. It becomes a challenge, a race against time, or─if you will─a game: do we win or do we lose?

If we win, one can surely imagine a collective cheer in every home and office watching the screen, as if Pacquiao had just scored a knockdown. But this time, it is everyone’s victory.

If we lose, a brownout happens somewhere in the grid, as the system sheds some load to avoid overheating the generating plants. One can imagine hearing a collective sigh throughout the island. But with some loads shed off, the demand will drop below the supply line again; we are back in the game!

Imagine doing this everyday over a two-week period, as we collectively struggle to spare the country from brownouts by pressing one switch and then another, as if we were playing an online game. It will be the greatest drama of the summer break.

With a more sophisticated display, we can make the “game” more interesting (though this is not absolutely necessary).

We can split the grid into four sectors, and split the screen into four too, each quarter of the screen showing the demand curve and supply line for each sector. Only those sectors that fail to turn off enough loads get the brownouts. Now it becomes a contest between sectors too. But everyone can win, if they can, collectively as a sector, manage to swerve away from the supply line without hitting it.

There is no way this won’t work! This can become our national game every summer.

By the way, this approach is called demand-side management (DSM). The secret here is instant feedback. People can see right away the results of their collective act. If you can see that what you are doing matters, you are bound to do more of it.

Remember: all this needs is for the Department of Energy to set up the screen and the media to broadcast it. The public will do the rest. We will because we do not want to be billed that P450 million .
March 23, 2015

Crossing Over: Making the Energy Transition from Fossil Fuels to Renewable Electricity

I have just finished a book entitled Crossing Over: The Energy Transition to Renewable Electricity, published this year 2015 by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

As with my other works, I’m making the file of this book available on this blog so that anyone may download it for free, and share it with others.

Many of the book’s contents are specific to the Philippines, where rooftop solar electricity became cheaper than grid-delivered coal-based electricity sometime in 2013. However, a number of insights are useful to other countries.

In particular, I present in the book a strong argument for net metering. I explain why another approach, usually called net billing, which pays grid-connected solar rooftop owner only the generation charge (roughly one-half of the retail price), is actually double-charging.

Please let me know if you found anything useful in the book.

Roberto Verzola


BNPP hypothetical 50-mile (80.5 km) radius evacuation zone: Batangas


Japanese authorities declared a 20-km evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant. But the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued on March 16, 2011, a warning to U.S. citizens living in Japan to evacuate to safer areas if they were living within 50 miles (80.5 km) of the radioactive plant.

These series of maps show which parts of Central Luzon, Metro Manila and Souithern Tagalog will be affected if a similar 80.5-km radius evacuation zone had to be declared due to a hypothetical nuclear disaster at the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (14.6291667N, 120.3136111E). The whole of Bataan will have to be evacuated.

In Batangas, the following areas will be affected:



BNPP danger zone 38/43

BNPP danger zone 39/43

BNPP danger zone 40/43

BNPP danger zone 41/43

BNPP danger zone 42/43

BNPP danger zone 43/43

BNPP hypothetical 50-mile (80.5 km) radius evacuation zone: Cavite


Japanese authorities declared a 20-km evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant. But the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued on March 16, 2011, a warning to U.S. citizens living in Japan to evacuate to safer areas if they were living within 50 miles (80.5 km) of the radioactive plant.

These series of maps show which parts of Central Luzon, Metro Manila and Souithern Tagalog will be affected if a similar 80.5-km radius evacuation zone had to be declared due to a hypothetical nuclear disaster at the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (14.6291667N, 120.3136111E). The whole of Bataan will have to be evacuated. The western most barangays of Laguna, Brgy. Magsaysay and Brgay. Langgam are just outside the danger zone.

In Cavite, the following areas will be affected:


BNPP danger zone 30/43

BNPP danger zone 31/43

BNPP danger zone 33/43

BNPP danger zone 34/43

BNPP danger zone 35/43

BNPP danger zone 36/43

BNPP danger zone 37/43

BNPP hypothetical 50-mile (80.5 km) radius evacuation zone: Northern Metro Manila

Japanese authorities declared a 20-km evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant. But the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued on March 16, 2011, a warning to U.S. citizens living in Japan to evacuate to safer areas if they were living within 50 miles (80.5 km) of the radioactive plant.

These series of maps show which parts of Central Luzon, Metro Manila and Souithern Tagalog will be affected if a similar 80.5-km radius evacuation zone had to be declared due to a hypothetical nuclear disaster at the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (14.6291667N, 120.3136111E). The whole of Bataan will have to be evacuated.

In the northern part of Metro Manila, the following areas will be affected:

BNPP hypothetical 50-mile (80.5 km) radius evacuation zone: Tarlac

Japanese authorities declared a 20-km evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant. But the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued on March 16, 2011, a warning to U.S. citizens living in Japan to evacuate to safer areas if they were living within 50 miles (80.5 km) of the radioactive plant.

These series of maps show which parts of Central Luzon, Metro Manila and Souithern Tagalog will be affected if a similar 80.5-km radius evacuation zone had to be declared due to a hypothetical nuclear disaster at the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (14.6291667N, 120.3136111E). The whole of Bataan will have to be evacuated.

In Tarlac, Bamban and parts of Capas (Sta. Juliana, O’Donell will be inside the danger zone (bluish tint), while all other towns will be outside the danger zone.

BNPP danger zone 4/43


Barangays Sta. Juliana, O’Donnell, Marugbu, and Cutcut of Capas are inside the danger zone.


bnpp danger zone 5/43




BNPP danger zone 6/43






BNPP danger zone 7/43






BNPP danger zone 8/43






BNPP hypothetical 50-mile (80.5 km) radius evacuation zone: Zambales

While Japanese authorities declared a 20-km evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued on March 16, 2011, a warning to U.S. citizens living in Japan to evacuate to safer areas if they were living within 50 miles (80.5 km) of the radioactive plant.

The following series of maps show which parts of Central Luzon, Metro Manila and Souithern Tagalog will be affected if a similar 80.5-km radius evacuation zone had to be declared due to a hypothetical nuclear disaster at the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (14.6291667N, 120.3136111E). The whole of Bataan will of course have to be evacuated.

In Zambales, all southern towns up to Botolan will be inside the danger zone (bluish tint). The capital Iba and all towns to its north will be outside the danger zone.

Zambales danger zone

The map below covers southeast of the map above.

Zambales danger zone

Zambales danger zone

The map below shows east of the map above and may include parts of Pampanga.

Zambales danger zone 3/3

KEPCO “feasibility study” for BNPP rehab: a P100 million zarzuela

Rep. Mark Cojuangco’s pet bill H.B. 6300 on the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) has been scheduled by the House of Representatives for plenary debates when it reconvenes in July.

Incongruously, while the bill appropriates P100 million “for the conduct and completion of a validation/feasibility study to determine the viability of rehabilitating, commissioning and commercially operating” the BNPP (Sec. 21), the bill jumps the gun on the study and already mandates “the immediate rehabilitation, commissioning and commercial operation” of the BNPP (Sec. 3).

There are other indications that the BNPP “feasibility study” is going to be a P100 million sham at the expense of the Filipino people, with results that are already predetermined:

– The Cojuangco bill has not been approved in the House of Representatives nor the Senate, and its becoming a law is by no means assured. Yet, Napocor has already jumped the gun on Congress, and announced that it is currently conducting with the help of the Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO) a feasibility study for the rehabilitation of the BNPP with a budget of P100 million. (Philstar, 5/11/09)

– The KEPCO study only began in January this year and is supposed to finish its work in October. Yet, Napocor has already jumped the gun on the KEPCO study itself, and announced that the rehabilitation, including transmission lines, will cost $1 billion. The $1B Napocor estimate is exactly the same estimate Rep. Cojuangco had earlier conjured without the benefit of a feasibility study.

– When the KEPCO study was first announced in January, it was a two-year pre-feasibility study funded solely by KEPCO ( After the bill was amended to require a feasibility study first, the KEPCO study magically turned into a ten-month full-blown feasibility study and a P100-million windfall for KEPCO, at Napocor’s expense.

– As a minimum requirement for credibility, a study that will determine the feasibility of rehabilitating the BNPP must be done by an independent firm or body with no direct interest in bidding for the rehabilitation project itself. In contrast, KEPCO is actually being considered by Napocor to implement the rehabilitation project, a clear conflict-of-interest situation.

So, today, we have KEPCO, eyeing to rehabilitate the BNPP, initially conducting a KEPCO-funded pre-feasibility study which has metamorphosed midway into a feasibility study costing Napocor P100 million, although the bill allocating the amount is not yet approved by Congress, and which study, we already know, will agree with Rep. Cojuangco that the cost will more or less be $1 billion.

Given these indications, the public does not need to spend a single centavo to know that the KEPCO zarzuela will conclude in October that the BNPP rehabilitation will be a viable project.

BNPP debate: Rep. Mark Cojuangco responds

[This response by Rep. Mark Cojuangco to earlier articles opposing the recommissioning of the BNPP was published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on May 6, 2009.]

Why we need Bataan nuclear plant now

I write in response to the erroneous remarks of Lea Guerrero, Roberto Verzola and Etta Rosales, in the Talk of the Town. (Inquirer, 3/15/09)

I said that 60 people died in the Chernobyl accident. I qualified my statement by saying; “western,” “commercial,” “nuclear” “power” industry. This does not include military, experimental and laboratory work. The Internet accounts Verzola refers to is not included by these qualifiers.

Before pointing fingers, the anti-nukes must first refute the fact that our traditional way of generating electricity, the burning of fossil fuels, spew out millions of tons of carbon dioxide and radioactive substances. No one stops this, because one-track minds would rather scare the people of an imagined nuke meltdown, instead of admitting that deadly wastes are being spread by conventional technology as we speak.

I strongly support renewable energy sources; but wind, the cheapest of them, requires an investment 4.5 to 7.5 times than the investment required for nuclear or fossil fuel power. Solar is even more expensive. The renewables, excepting possibly geothermal, are not of baseload quality—that is, not 24/7. To make it so would require further investment in storage technologies (batteries) and inverters, which then makes it even more unreachable and impossible. Hard to admit, but the renewables are not yet economically mature, nor financially viable enough to be a solution at this time. We need a proven solution now.

I have acquired the METTS study done in 1995. It concluded that the BNPP should be operated as a nuclear plant, and not be converted. I seriously suspect that the other studies being referred to by Verzola either do not exist or are deliberately being suppressed by the anti-nuke lobby, to enable a claim that we are maliciously holding back evidence. I am now concerned that these phantom studies will somehow “surface” during plenary debates to derail and subvert the legislative process.

All I ask is for Verzola and company to be reasonable and look at the METTS study. Besides, what can be more valid than the studies which produced the empirical and observable results of sister plants, especially in Korea, which have over 25 years of successful operations? These plants, more than any other paper study, physically demonstrate the validity of our claims. As they say: To see is to believe.

Verzola slams at my claims that the BNPP will provide the cheapest electricity. We only need to be reasonable and sensible and look at the countries with successful nuke power.

They say that my warning of a power crisis in 2012 is overstated. But, no one can refute the fact that the Philippines’ per capita electric consumption is very low due to the highest prices in the region. Thus, compared to our neighbors, we simply are poorer now. Our population is growing, our power plants are aging, it is a matter of time that we will need more power.


Fifth District,

Province of Pangasinan,

author of HB 4631

Why the BNPP should be every Filipino’s concern

A move is afoot in the House of Representatives, initiated by Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan, to rehabilitate for commercial operation the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP). The BNPP has been sitting idle for the past 23 years, a monument to government corruption and nuclear folly.

The cost of rehabilitation has been estimated at $1 billion. Considering the history of cost escalation in the nuclear industry, however, the actual cost may reach two to three times the initial estimates, or even more.

Filipinos living far from Bataan may think they have more urgent concerns than a nuclear plant. They must think again, for several reasons:

1. The Cojuangco proposal will fund the BNPP rehabilitation from a tax to be levied on the consumption of electricity, whether it is from a hydropower, wind, solar, coal or oil plant. Thus, every electricity consumer from Batanes to Tawi-tawi will be hit financially. That means most of us.

2. The government has plans for ten more nuclear plants all over the Philippines which could not be implemented because of anti-nuclear opposition. The target sites are a closely-guarded government secret. If the opposition to the BNPP is weak enough for the government to overcome, this will open the floodgates to more nuclear plants, possibly in your region or province. Or even in your hometown. Remember: several studies have indicated that leukemia and other cancers are more common, especially among children, within five to ten kilometers of nuclear plants.

3. Huge government projects draw corrupt bureaucrats like flies to garbage. These huge nuclear projects, costing several billion dollars each, will suck in funds from other government projects. They will mire the country in deeper debt. Yet much of the money will simply line the pockets of bureaucrats, suppliers and contractors. In the end, we the taxpayers, our grandchildren, and their grandchildren will end up footing the entire bill, as we did with the BNPP.

We have so many rivers, waterfalls and hotsprings that can provide us cleaner, safer, cheaper hydroelectric and geothermal power. Wind and wave can further supplement these.

For years now, the prices of computers, LCD projectors, digital cameras, and other electronic equipment have been steadily going down, thanks to large-scale production. The basic element in all these products is silicon, the same raw material used in solar panels. With the large-scale production of solar panels which have been announced in China, Germany and other countries, we may soon enjoy cheap solar power too. Then we may not even need a Meralco or an electric coop to enjoy the benefits of electricity.

But the government will have no money for any of these, if we open our doors to the BNPP and ten other nuclear plants.

BNPP: Mark Cojuangco failed to prove his case

[A shorter version of this article was published on March 15, 2009 by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Talk of the Town Section, p.A14. I am posting here the full article as submitted. The portions left out by the PDI editors, presumably to fit the piece into the available space, are marked in blue.]

Rep. Cojuangco failed to prove his case to rehabilitate BNPP

by Roberto Verzola*

Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan faced an enormous challenge when he boldly proposed the recommissioning of the 620 MW Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP). He should have realized that he took on a huge burden of proof with his proposal, for at least two reasons:

  1. The public is well acquainted with the BNPP’s well-documented history of corruption under the Marcos martial law regime ranging from substandard construction materials and practices to presidential bribes, as described in the book Debts of Dishonor.

  2. Three major official studies had already found the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP) unfit to operate: a technical study by a team of over 15 nuclear experts assembled by the NUS Corporation in 1988; a second study, also under the term of President Corazon Aquino, by another team of 50 nuclear experts commissioned in 1990, who submitted a 28-volume report; and a third review conducted after a proposal to revive the BNPP was raised under the term of President Fidel Ramos, which again led the government to decide otherwise. These are historical facts, and the documents which became the basis for these decisions are presumably gathering dust in some government archives.

Rep. Cojuangco has failed to prove his case:

  1. He completely ignores earlier official studies, which were prepared by experts who actually made a detailed inspection of the BNPP itself. Instead, he justifies his proposal with miscellaneous factoids on nuclear power plants in other countries, selectively culled by him and his staff from the Web and Wikipedia.

  2. In the Feb. 2 public hearing conducted by Congress, he could neither cite nor present detailed technical, economic or financial feasibility studies on the BNPP itself, obviously because he has not done any.

  3. His claim that “in the 50-year history of the nuclear power industry in the West, including the Three Mile Island incident, not a single person has been killed or injured” is so blatantly false it boggles the mind that a congressman would expose himself so. A simple Internet search easily reveals the following deaths from nuclear plant accidents outside of Chernobyl: one death in Rhode Island, USA in 1964; two in Virginia, USA in 1986; two in Japan in 2000 (from a 1999 accident); another four in Japan in 2004; two in Pakistan in 2008. These results do not include injuries, which are presumably more numerous. I was a resource person at the Feb. 2 hearing in Congress when he made a similar “no-deaths” claim, and I directly told him he was wrong, as a simple Web search would show. He still made the same claim at the Feb. 20 Kamayan sa EDSA Forum, where I was also a resource person, and I again called his attention to the false claim. Yet, he obstinately repeats this false claim in his March 8 Inquirer piece.

  4. At least three published scientific studies (Wing 1996; Chang 2003; Kaatsch 2007) show that the incidence of leukemia and other cancers, especially among children, is higher within a 5-10 km radius of nuclear plants.

  5. His $1 billion BNPP rehabilitation cost estimate comes from a questionable method based on comparable coal plant costs, instead of detailed cost estimates of actual services and materials for nuclear plants.

  6. He claims that the BNPP will provide the cheapest electricity without giving any actual figures or providing any supporting financial study. He cites cheap nuclear electricity in France, the U.S. and elsewhere, ignoring the fact that their nuclear industries are heavily subsidized for nuclear bomb production and related military goals.

  7. His warnings of a possible power crisis in 2012 is based on overestimated demand projections made before the global recession that is currently in progress.

  8. His Inquirer piece forces on the public a false “either-or” choice between nuclear and fossil fuels, ignoring such viable options hydro, geothermal, biomass, and wind. Solar photovoltaic (PV) cells may still be expensive today. But remember that PV cells are made of silicon, the same semiconductor material used in computers, LCD projectors, digital cameras and other electronic equipment. With the entry of China into PV production, expect PV prices – now approaching $1/watt peak (or $620 million for 620 MWpeak) – to drop dramatically in the next few years. The lower prices will result in increased demand and larger-scale production, which will reduce prices even more.

  9. While the rest of the world wants to subsidize renewable energy sources to increase demand and hasten a drop in prices, Cojuangco’s bill will instead tax renewables to subsidize nuclear power, which is bizarre.

For details and other arguments, please check the site

*Roberto Verzola is a convenor of the Philippine Greens and co-author of the book Debts of Dishonor (1991) on odious debts, which include the BNPP debt.

Carbon footprint of various sources of electricity. Lowest: run-of-the-river hydro

A 2006 UK study by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology compares the life-cycle carbon footprints of a number of energy sources. The study can provide a good starting point for research, in connection with the Philippine debate whether or not to rehabilitate the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP), as proposed by Congressman Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan.

Here’s a summary of the UK study carbon footprint findings, in terms of grams of CO2 equivalent per kWh of electricity generated:

  1. Coal: >1,000
  2. Coal with gassifier technology: <800
  3. Oil: 650
  4. Gas: 500
  5. Biomass: 93
  6. Photovoltaic: 58
  7. Photovoltaic in sunny countries of southern Europe: 35
  8. Wave energy: 25-50
  9. High-density biomass with gassification: 25
  10. Hydro with dams: 10-30
  11. Wind: 5
  12. Nuclear: 5
  13. Hydro, run-of-the-river (no dams): <5

The study also projects the impact of technology trends on future carbon footprints:

  1. Coal footprint may be halved
  2. Carbon capture and storage (CSS) may reduce coal footprint by 90%
  3. Biomass with CSS has potential for up to -420 “negative” carbon emissions
  4. Using very low grade uranium can raise nuclear footprint to 7
  5. Other technologies may reduce their carbon footprint by using low-carbon energy during the production phase.

The study may be downloaded here or from its original site.

Cojuangco repeats lie: no nuclear plant deaths outside Chernobyl

We must thank the Philippine Daily Inquirer for printing Rep. Mark Cojuangco’s article in their March 8, 2009 issue, Talk of the Town Section. In that article, Cojuangco publicly defends his position to rehabilitate the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP) for recommissioning.

There are many questionable claims in Cojuangco’s Inquirer article. But I will only focus on one paragraph:

In the 50-year history of the nuclear power industry in the West, including the Three Mile Island incident, not a single person has been killed or injured. The Chernobyl accident in Ukraine, in the former Soviet Union, where 60 people were reportedly killed, was indeed a tragedy.

When Cojuangco made this claim on Feb. 2, during the public hearing of the Appropriations Committee of Congress, I already corrected him. In my public testimony as a resource person during the same hearing, I addressed myself directly to him and told him he was wrong, because at least four people had died in Japan from a nuclear accident (the current count is actually six). During the Kamayan sa EDSA public forum on Feb. 20, he again made that claim. And since I was also a resource person in that forum, I again corrected him publicly. This is also described in my earlier post, “No nuclear plant deaths outside Chernobyl?“, which cited another case of four deaths in the U.S. in 1986.

Note that Cojuangco also claimed that no single nuclear plant injury has occurred outside Chernobyl. I didn’t even bother to count the injuries anymore.

Having been corrected twice for this false claim about zero deaths in the West, the least Cojuangco could have done is to double-check his facts and to refrain from mentioning it anymore.

I find it incredible that he would repeat the same lie in his March 8 Inquirer article, in public and in print.

Rep. Mark Cojuangco’s actions are truly puzzling. I don’t think he is an inveterate liar. But why would he expose himself so? He has, it seems, become so irrationally obsessed with his pet bill that he doesn’t listen to other people or to reason anymore.

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 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!

Earthquakes can trigger nuclear plant accidents

Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan and Dr. Carlos Arcilla of the National Institute for Geological Sciences of the University of the Philippines (NIGS-UP), in their Feb. 2 presentations at the Congress hearing on the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP), both claimed that the BNPP site had already been hit by an earthquake greater than magnitude 6 without any damage. On this basis, they assure the public that the BNPP can withstand powerful earthquakes.

Their logic has one major flaw: the BNPP was not operational when the earthquake hit.

An operational nuclear plant would have a huge pool of cooling water around the reactor core, and would also have in storage hundreds, perhaps thousands, of drums of radioactive waste water which are susceptible to accidental spillage, especially during an earthquake.

Such an accident is not only a possibility. It has already happened.

The biggest commercial nuclear power facility in Japan, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility, was hit by a magnitude 6.8 earthquake in July 2007. Officials originally claimed that 100 drums in one of the several NPPs in the facility tipped over, but later admitted that 400 drums had actually tipped over and spilled their entire contents on the plant floor. The plant has been shut down since then. One of the plant’s video cameras also recorded one-meter waves in the pool of water around the reactor core, spilling some of the water on the floor.

For details, just search “earthquake hits nuclear plant“.

The earthquake that hit the BNPP site was of a similar magnitude, which gives us a good idea what could have happened had the BNPP been operational when the earthquake hit.

If the quake causes cracks in the pool or breaks pipes and leads to a loss-of-coolant accident, it could even be worse.

No nuclear plant deaths outside Chernobyl?

At the Feb. 2 hearing in Congress, when Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan defended his proposal to recommission the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP), he claimed that no deaths have occurred in a nuclear power plant accident outside Chernobyl.

As a resource person in the same hearing, I had called his attention to this wrong information. Addressing him directly, I told Cojuangco that several deaths have occurred in Japan due to nuclear plant accidents. Prof. Kelvin Rodolfo had also complained about Cojuangco’s “distortion” of one of his papers, co-authored with Joan Cabato et. al. If a casual checking of his claims right away reveals such misinformation, how can we trust the rest of the claims in the Cojuangco bill and explanatory note, which were not accompanied by feasibility studies done by experts, I asked.

On Feb. 20, Cojuangco spoke as a resource person at the Kamayan sa EDSA forum on the BNPP. In the forum, he repeated the falsehood that no one has died in a nuclear accident outside Chernobyl.

Now, if someone makes a mistake once, even if that mistake is made in an official testimony at a Congressional hearing, he can perhaps be forgiven for getting his facts wrong. But if his attention is called about it, the least he’d be expected to do is to double-check his facts and correct the mistake.

To repeat the same falsehood in another public forum, after having been told that it is not true, suggests a deliberate intent to mislead the public.

The first death in a U.S. commercial nuclear facility occurred in July 1964, as described in this New York Times story.

In their 1982 book Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience With Atomic Radiation (the entire book is available online here), authors Harvey Wasserman and Norman Solomon review the trail of deaths in the U.S. caused by atomic radiation. Chapter 14, entitled “People Died at Three Mile Island”, describes the elevated death rates among infants along the path of the radioactive plume that came from the TMI accident.

Here’s another New York Times report of a nuclear plant accident in a Virginia nuclear plant in the U.S., which scalded four people to death. It occurred in December 1986. The burst steam pipe accident is similar to another deadly nuclear accident that would subsequently occur in Japan, described below.

A serious accident occurred at the Tokai-mura nuclear plant in Japan (this one is a fuel processing plant rather than a power plant) in September 1999, and two of the exposed workers subsequently died from exposure to radiation, as described in this journal article.

Here’s a report from the New Scientist about the Mihama nuclear plant accident in August 2004, which “killed four people and injured seven.” This is also a burst steam pipe accident. An extremely detailed description of the Mihama accident can be found in this accident database, which contains detailed descriptions of 12 other serious nuclear accidents.

I got these reports simply by searching the Internet for “death from nuclear plant accident”.

Searching for “injuries in nuclear plant accident”, I came across this report of two deaths in a Pakistan nuclear plant accident in 2008, although this accident seems to involve a plutonium enrichment plant rather than a power generating plant.

There have been, of course, more injuries than deaths, but I didn’t bother counting anymore.

By the way, I have been counting actual deaths reported in scientific journals or media. But some scientists have a much higher estimate of the number of deaths from the accumulating radiation in our environment. Very much higher. The highest I’ve seen is this report (search the Web: nuclear deaths).

UPDATE: in a public forum on the BNPP last April 16, 2009, held at the Negros Occidental provincial capitol in Bacolod City and sponsored by the Freedom from Debt Coalition, with the provincial governor Isidro Zayco, Congressman Jose Carlos Lacson, and several other local officials among the audience, Rep. Cojuangco and I were the main speakers. I raised this issue once more. In fact, to avoid embarrassing Cojuangco, I said he was “getting very poor information from his staff”.

Incredibly, Cojuangco stuck to his false claim.

How do you deal with such audacity? I simply asked the audience to check for themselves, with the search term “nuclear plant accident death”. Some government officials, it seems, do not yet realize that it is not so easy to fool the public anymore, thanks to the Web.

At one point in the Bacolod debate, he claimed that Sweden was already getting 95% of its electricity from nuclear plants. Although I didn’t know the actual Sweden figure, I questioned this claim because I knew that France, at around 80%, was often cited as the country most dependent on nuclear electricity. I asked the audience to double-check it. I checked later myself: Sweden’s figure was around 45%.

At some other point in the debate, Cojuangco also corrected me, referring to the $9.5 million I cited as cost of the 1990 NES technical audit which found the BNPP not safe to operate. This amount was reported in the media, quoting government technical consultant Nicanor Perlas. Cojuangco said nonchalantly, “actually it was $8.5 million”, suggesting that I had my facts wrong. Well, it so happened that my next BNPP forum after Bacolod was on April 18 in Iloilo, where Nicanor Perlas himself was also a speaker. Nicky confirmed that it was $9.5 million.

Apparently, this cavalier attitude towards truth (and lies) is simply a Cojuangco debating trick, to score instant points against an opponent.

Is electricity from nuclear power really cheaper?

Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan, sponsor of the bill that will rehabilitate for recommissioning the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP), claims that electricity from a rehabilitated BNPP will be cheaper, although he hasn’t done any real feasibility study on the economic and financial aspects of BNPP rehabilitation.

What he cites are figures from countries like France, where the main source of electricity is nuclear power and electricity costs are lower than other countries of Europe, the U.S., one of earliest pioneers in nuclear electricity, or India and China, who seem intent on expanding their nuclear generation capabilities.

What Cojuangco misses is that nuclear electricity appears cheap because of the huge government subsidies that nuclear R&D receives. For many countries, the civilian applications of nuclear power are secondary to their military applications. Governments set up nuclear plants because they want to have the Bomb, regardless of the cost. It is this strategic objective to become a nuclear power that justifies their huge subsidies to the nuclear industry.

Even if some local politicians secretly harbored an ambition to become the first ASEAN country with the Bomb, our Constitution prohibits such a thing. Thus, in our case, civilian nuclear applications must stand on their own, without any subsidy at all from the government. If it has to carry the full burden of costs for exclusively civilian applications, it is highly doubtful that nuclear electricity would be cheap. No one can say at this point, of course, how expensive or cheap BNPP electricity will be. That is precisely why economic and financial feasibility studies are necessary.

In fact, Japanese anti-nuclear activists have long been demanding the privatization of the electricity industry in Japan. Like us, Japan is also prohibited by its constitution from exploring military applications of nuclear power. Japanese activists know that if nuclear power plants in Japan were privatized and had to operate with no government subsidy, they will not be competitive in the electricity market and will soon be replaced by conventional plants.

Yet, without any economic or financial feasibility study to support his claims, Cojuangco continues to insist that a rehabilitated BNPP will bring the cost of electricity down.

Electric bikes for sustainable transport

When I saw a neighbor’s electric bicycle today, I was impressed. Here was a good example of the new possibilities for sustainable transport.

The electric bike, which he bought from a bicycle shop in Caloocan, cost P17,000. It is made by LBH Co. of China. The e-bike comes with a maintenance-free 36-volt lead-acid battery. The battery powers an electric motor built into the rear axle. However, the rider can still use the foot pedal if he wants to, which takes the load off the battery. If he pedals fast enough, or when going downhill, the battery is automatically recharged. The battery is also easily detached for recharging from any 220-volt outlet. He spent a few hundred pesos more to replace the single-speed plate with a three-speed one, for higher speed pedalling.

My neighbor says he finds the battery power most useful on uphill climbs, or when he is too tired to pedal. Normally, to keep fit, he pedals to work and back.

The battery can last for five hours of riding, up to eight hours if he uses the foot pedal intermittently. He has used it to travel from Manila to Bulacan and back.

Because it is considered a bicycle, it needs no registration, license or other bureaucratic requirements. As a bicycle rider, he can go on sidewalks, counter-flow, and do other things normally allowed bicycles. The bike does look like a bicycle more than a motorcycle. The only giveaway is the elongated battery under the seat and the wider-than-usual rear axle, which contains the electric motor.

Here is the ideal personal transport for city-riding. Replace the lead-acid battery with a fuel cell of the future, and the design will even be more environmentally friendly. This is true 21st century transport. If the e-bike is used widely here — and the government should strongly encourage its use by allowing, for instance, tax-free importation — we can significantly reduce the pollution coming from the increasing number of motor bikes in metropolitan areas.

A most strongly recommended replacement for motorbikes. Cheaper, good for one’s health, and good for the environment.

BNPP feasibility study: Cojuangco has none, doesn’t want any

I finally got a chance to engage in a discussion Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan, sponsor of the bill to recommission the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP). The occasion was the Kamayan Forum last Feb 20, Friday. Aside from Cojuangco and myself, Beau Baconguis of Greenpeace was also on the panel of resource persons.

Cojuangco presented his usual arguments: that most oppositors were against nuclear power per se, that nuclear power was becoming a major power source in other countries, that no one outside Chernobyl had died in a nuclear accident (not true! Cojuangco should fire his staff who gave him this falsehood!), that Patrick Moore, a Greenpeace renegade was now pro-nuke, and that the Pope was also pro-nuke.

I left it to Beau of Greenpeace argue the details of the anti-BNPP side of the debate, which she did very well.

Addressing myself directly to Cojuangco. I said I was looking not for a debate about nuclear power per se, which will not be resolved for a long time, but was after possible areas of agreement regarding the BNPP in particular, where discussions can be more specific.

It was clear, I told Cojuangco and the audience, that Cojuangco didn’t have any recent feasibility study on the technical, economic and financial aspects of the BNPP, or he would have already presented them in Congress. I said Cojuangco was basing his claims of safety and affordable electricity on studies during the Marcos period, and on Internet accounts of experiences of nuclear plants in other countries.

I mentioned that three technical studies had been done during the Aquino administration: a technical review sponsored by the U.N. Center for Transnational Corporations in 1986, a technical audit by a U.S. nuclear consultancy firm in 1988, the NUS Corporation, and another audit by a 50-person team of international nuclear experts in 1990, and all three concluded that the plant was not safe to operate. I said I am aware of Cojuangco’s argument that these studies were politically-motivated. Whether this is true or not, these are the latest available and the burden of proof was on Cojuangco to prove otherwise. I would repeat several times that Cojuangco had not commissioned any expert studies, which he never contradicted.

I further mentioned that the BNPP had been designed and constructed based on the nuclear safety standards of the 1970s, that standards evolve, and that they are updated when major or minor accidents occur. So nuclear safety standards are much stricter today than they were in the 1970s.

I said it was therefore very important, before Congress decided whether or not to commit $1 billion to rehabilitate a 22-year old plant, for the necessary studies to be conducted first. I also added that such studies would be more useful if they also compared the BNPP option with other options, such as energy efficiency, geothermal, solar, wind, biomass and so on, so that our policy-makers could prioritize their appropriations accordingly, especially since some options (like fossil fuel-based plants) where getting more and more expensive while other options (like solar and wind) were getting cheaper and cheaper. So even if some options may not be viable today, they might be viable five years from now, when the BNPP goes online if Cojuangco has his way.

Cojuangco said explicitly, that he did not want any feasibility study. What he had in mind, he said, was a “validation process, which would at the end make a definite decision whether to operate or to dismantle the nuclear plant”.

I had no problem with the term “validation process,” I said, as long as it would be conducted by an independent body, that their conclusions were not predetermined, and that civil society would have some representation within that body to assure ourselves that the process was conducted fairly.

I asked Cojuangco if he would be willing to sponsor himself a bill to fund the creation of a body that will conduct such a validation process and, in the meantime, to hold in abeyance his bill mandating the immediate rehabilitation and recommissioning of the BNPP.

He said he planned instead to amend his bill. I asked what time frame he had in mind for the independent body to conduct the “validation process”, but he didn’t answer the question.

By the way, this was not a back-and-forth exchange, which may be the impresssion created by the above account. Cojuangco kept on referring to his own Internet research about nuclear plants in other countries, told stories about his childhood days in factories owned by his grandfather and father, responded to other questions from the audience, and would also refer to my challenge and respond to it. I actually had a very limited chance to pursue my point, and couldn’t press him when he chose to avoid the issue.

My personal assessment after this discussion with Rep. Mark Cojuangco: he has no real feasibility study on the BNPP itself; all he has are the results of his highly selective browsing over the Internet (choosing the positive, ignoring the negative); he doesn’t want a real feasibility study by an independent body; but he couldn’t find a valid reason to oppose one; he has become so personally and emotionally involved in his nuclear power advocacy that he has lost his bearings and will push through his pet bill to rehabilitate the BNPP, come what may. When someone from the audience read to him the adverse findings of a 1990 technical review, he just went on citing his Internet findings, as if he heard nothing. He refers to people as anti-nuke per se. But Cojuangco himself appears very much like a pro-nuke per se.

Unfortunately, Cojuangco seems to enjoy a deep wellspring of friendship and support from his colleagues in Congress. Even those who privately acknowledge they are against the BNPP could not back out of their co-sponsorship of the bill out of friendship.

Cojuangco’s real friends should talk to him and convince him to ease up, and to let an independent validation process take its course. And should that process go against his pet bill, he should even be thankful because it would save the Cojuangco name from being associated with the most expensive while elephant in our history.

BNPP cannot be proven safe, says technical consultant

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:

  1. deficient fire protection systems,
  2. unusually large number of field change notices or FCNs,
  3. test programs that do not meet local and foreign standards of acceptability,
  4. safety-related electrical components do not meet physical separation requirements,
  5. anchor bolts and baseplate installations do not meet regulatory standards, and
  6. 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.