Category Archives: Philippine Greens

Philippine SRI map: where are the SRI trainers, farm trials and trainings conducted so far

I have not been very active in posting messages lately because a particular advocacy has kept me really busy.

I coordinate SRI Pilipinas a national network of farmers and organic farming advocates that promote the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). I’ve made a few previous posts about this method, including the Nov. 2011 news that five SRI farmers in India have broken the world record in rice yield previously held by world-famous Prof. Yuan Long-ping, inventor of hybrid rice.

I am posting here two maps — 1) Luzon, and 2) Visayas and Mindanao — showing the areas where we have SRI trainers (who can conduct one-day trainings for free), where we have conducted one-day SRI trainings (almost 130 throughout the country so far), and where farmers have conducted SRI trials, as far as we know.

The maps may not show any place marker at first (teardrop-shaped icons) at first, because loading them takes time, especially over slow connections. Be patient. The man/woman icons stand for locations where we have SRI trainers.

The Luzon SRI map:,121.52486&spn=8.393733,5.322091&output=embed
View SRI Pilipinas (Luzon) Trainers, Trials and Trainings in a larger map


The Visayas/Mindanao SRI map:,122.552533&spn=6.462083,7.511902&output=embed
View SRI Pilipinas (Visayas & Mindanao) Trainers, Trials and Trainings in a larger map

Eventually we hope to have at least one SRI trainer in every rice-producing province.



Horacio Potel’s Derrida site shut down, but available on Internet Archive

According to a U.S.-based Brazilian literature professor who has expressed solidarity with Argentinian philosophy professor Horacio Potel (see the full Potel story here), the complete Derrida site of Potel is still available from the archiving project called Internet Archive. Hence, those who still want to access the Derrida site, which had been shut down by the Argentinian authorities, may do so from this address:

Potel’s Heidegger site, which had also been shut down, is likewise available on this new address:

Here’s my translation of the original letter of support in Spanish of Prof. Idelber Avelar address to Prof. Horacio Potel. Avelar describes how Potel’s Derrida and Heidegger sites have been preserved by the Internet Archive project, as well as by other bloggers through Easy Share, which enables Internet users to download the zip-archived version of Potel’s sites.

Dear Professor Horacio Potel:

I speak to you as a Brazilian, a literature professor in New Orleans (who has, in fact, done some work on the literature of Argentina), and a blogger. I would like, first of all, to extend to you all my sympathy for the horror caused by the insane application of the anachronistic copyright law. I am at your service for whatever help I can extend. In the Brazilian blogosphere, we have accumulated some experience in fighting attempts to censor the Internet.

Your work has already been archived in some servers, and the purpose of this letter is to offer you guidance over these archives. Everything that was once part of the Internet stays preserved on the Internet Archive, and the material can only be taken out of the Wayback Machine if the responsible person allows it. Thus, the Heidegger and Derrida websites are still available there. They are here:

Of course, it is possible for them to file a new case to remove the material from the Internet Archive. But not just anyone can request to do so. You must be legally compelled to permit the removal. It is possible for them to do this, of course, so I and some other Brazilian bloggers, like Catatau and Nodari, have also replicated your work in Easy Share, in a downloadable zip file format. Here is the link:

It would be interesting to discuss the difference between a link and a text with Minuit and CAL [the Argentinian Book Chamber—tr.] in the courts, especially with the entire Derrida archives for citation. I repeat: there are several precedents of similar attempts at censorship and of the considerable success of the forces that resist them. So you are not alone. Tell us what you need.

Best wishes, and in solidarity,

Idelber Avelar

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.

CopySouth group takes up philosophy professor’s case

The CopySouth Research Group (CSRG), an international network of activists and academics studying the impact on the global South of copyrights and related issues, has taken up the case of the philosophy professor whose Web site was shut down for posting Spanish translations of works by Jacques Derrida, the founder of “deconstruction”. Here is the CSRG statement:

Argentinean professor charged criminally for promoting access to knowledge

By the CopySouth Research Group

A philosophy professor in Argentina, Horacio Potel, is facing criminal charges for maintaining a website devoted to translations of works by French philosopher Jacques Derrida. His alleged crime: copyright infringement. Here is Professor Potel’s sad story.

“I was fascinated at the unlimited possibilities offered by the internet for knowledge exchange”, explains Horacio Potel, a Professor of Philosophy at the Universidad Nacional de Lanús in Buenos Aires. In 1999, he set up a personal website to collect essays and other works of some well-known philosophers, starting with the German Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. Potel’s websites – Nietzsche in Spanish, Heidegger in Spanish and Derrida in Spanish – eventually developed into growing online libraries of freely downloadable philosophical texts. Nietzsche in Spanish alone has already received more than four million visitors.

One of Potel’s best known websites, focused on his favourite French philosopher, Algerian-born Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), who was the founder of “deconstruction”. On this website Potel posted many of the philosopher’s works, translated into Spanish, as well as discussion forums, research results, biographies, images and the usual pieces of information typical of this type of online resource. “I wanted to share my love for philosophy with other people. The idea was disseminating the texts and giving them some sort of arrangement” declares Potel.

To Potel, what he was doing was what professors have done for centuries: helping students to get access to knowledge. “It is not possible to find the same comprehensive collection of works that was available at Derrida’s and Heidegger’s websites either in libraries or in bookstores in Argentina”, says Potel. In fact, only two bookstores in Argentina’s largest city, Buenos Aires, carry some books by Derrida and many of his works are seldom available to readers. Potel spent decades visiting libraries and bookstores to collect the material he posted on his online library. “Many of those texts are already out of print”, he says. Books that are out of print cannot be purchased, but they are often still protected by copyright laws.

Furthermore, Potel finds the prices charged by foreign publishers, such as the Mexican companies Porrua and Cal y Arena, “prohibitive” by Argentinean standards. He gives as an example the price of a recently published booklet of a conference given by Derrida. Printed in large typeface, the booklet has about eighty pages, although the text would certainly fit in twelve. It was being sold for 162 Argentinean pesos, around 42 US dollars at current exchange rates. Even at that steep price copies were very hard to find within two weeks after they arrived in Argentina. Potel relates how he had to walk around Buenos Aires for an entire afternoon in order to find a single copy of the booklet.

But the price of foreign books is not the only concern in this case. For Derrida’s works to be accessible to the Spanish-speaking world they have to be translated. While the Spanish versions of the texts available on the website were not done by him, Potel made corrections to a few of them, since some of Derrida’s Spanish language books have been quite poorly translated. To make the texts easier to understand for readers, Potel also linked each translation to the original text, as well as to other works cited by Derrida.

Eventually, Potel’s popular website caught the attention of a publisher. A criminal case against Potel was initiated on December 31, 2008 after a complaint was lodged by a French company, the publishing house Les Éditions de Minuit. They have published only one of Derrida’s books and it was in French. Minuit’s complaint was passed on to the French Embassy in Argentina and it became the basis of the Argentina Book Chamber‘s legal action against Potel.

The Argentina Book Chamber boasts of its doubtful precedents of having been responsible for a police raid at the Faculty of Arts and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires and for having managed to condemn some professors for encouraging the students to photocopy books and articles. “The view of the police entering the Puán building is remembered with astonishment by many members of the academic community” says a report. The next possible effects of the legal action against Potel are the wiretapping of his phone line, the interception of his email accounts and an incursion into his house to “determine the actual place where the illegal act occurred”.

Potel has already removed all the content from his website, a decision which he regards as a tragedy. “These websites are my best work. They are the result of many hours of work and have been entirely funded by me”, he says. Those who access today find a warning: “This website has been taken down due to a legal action initiated by the Argentina Book Chamber”. Potel insists that he “never intended to make a profit” out of Derrida’s works. Yet he faces a possible criminal sentence of one month up to six years in prison for violation of Argentina’s intellectual property laws, according to a February 28, 2009 story by the online version of Argentina’s largest newspaper, Clarín.

If Derrida was alive, he would probably be thanking Potel for bringing translations of his texts to millions of Spanish-speaking readers, who otherwise would never have had the opportunity to read the works of the French philosopher. Here’s what the founder of deconstruction said about freedom within the university:

“And yet I maintain that the idea of this space of the academic type has to be symbolically protected by a kind of absolute immunity, as if its interior were inviolable; I believe (this is like a profession of faith which I address to you and submit to your judgment) that this is an idea that we must reaffirm, declare, and profess endlessly. […] This freedom of immunity of the university and par excellence of its Humanities is something to which we must lay claim, while committing ourselves to it with all our might. Not only in a verbal and declaratory fashion, but in work, in act and in what we make happen with events.” (Jacques Derrida, “The University Without Condition” in Without Alibi, ed. & trans. by Peggy Kamuf, Stanford University Press, 2002, p. 210)

Those who profess to “protect” Derrida’s “intellectual property rights” are now persecuting a professor who is simply following the French philosopher’s teachings and popularising them in the Spanish-speaking world.

The CopySouth Research Group calls on the Argentina Book Chamber and the government of Argentina to drop these criminal charges immediately and to respect and protect professor Potel’s academic freedom in providing popular access to philosophical works. In any conflict between intellectual property and the right to education and to access knowledge, we choose education and we urge those who share the same concerns to spread the word widely and rapidly.

You can send letters to Les Éditions de Minuit (7 Rue Bernard Palissy, 75006 Paris 06, France, email:, the Argentina Book Chamber (Av. Belgrano 1580, Piso 4, C1093AAQ Buenos Aires, Argentina, email: and the Argentina Federal Council of Education (Pizzurno 935, P.B. of. 5, C1020ACA Buenos Aires, Argentina, email:

30 March 2009

The CopySouth Research Group

The CopySouth Research Group (CSRG) was established in 2005. The CSRG is composed of researchers and activists in more than 15 countries and conducts research on a range of copyright and related issues in the global South. Copies of the 210-page CopySouth Dossier are available as a free download (in English and Spanish) on its website (


Note: This report is based on information collected from Horacio Potel and from several other sources, including the article on the online version of the Argentinean newspaper Clarín, a blog post by Patricio Lorente translated by Carolina Botero and a Wikipedia entry on Horacio Potel.

Prof may go to jail for popularizing philosophical works

Major controversy has erupted after the French and Argentinian governments went after a philosophy professor for popularizing Spanish translations of philosophical texts. Prof. Horacio Potel is accused of violating “intellectual property rights” and faces a prison term of one month to six years. Much of the discussion is in Spanish and therefore inaccessible to the English-speaking world. Here’s a translation of one report from the Spanish-language online newspaper

February 28, 2009

France intervened to shut down an Argentinian site popularizing philosophical works

It acted through the Book Chamber. The site posted Derrida texts. Solidarity support on the Facebook network.

By Andres Hax

Derrida, the French author who shaped the thinking of the last thirty years with key works like “politics of friendship” and “the writing and the difference”, among others.

In the late nineties, when the Internet was completely novel, professor of philosophy at the University of Lanús, Horacio Potel, began posting texts of Friedrich Nietzsche at a personal site. In his words, it was a non-profit publishing and stewardship effort. Soon he added two more sites, with texts by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger and the Frenchman Jacques Derrida. This tiny digital library – which also includes biographies, links and essays – has been consulted, according to his logs, by more than four million people since its inception and ranks high among search engines: in Google, if you type Jacques Derrida Argentina, the first hit is the Wikipedia entry and the second is the former site of Potel,

For Potel, this laboriously-compiled collection has become a nightmare: after the intervention of the French Embassy in Argentina, a criminal case filed by the Argentina Book Chamber for violation of Intellectual Property Law 11.723 has forced him to take down the Derrida texts from his site and deal and face a possible “prison term ranging from one month to six years.”

The charge against Potel cites the law prohibiting the “editing, selling or reproduction by any means or in any medium, a published or unpublished work without permission from its author or his heirs.” The legal language is not debatable. Having posted online Derrida’s texts – protected by copyright – Potel infringed on copyrights. “This law exists to protect cultural works,” says Carlos de Santos, president of the Argentina Book Chamber, to Clarin. “The Chamber has always acted in defense of intellectual property rights. Without intellectual property rights, publications cannot possibly exist. And I believe the possibilities for intellectual work will be less,” he concluded.

The Argentina Book Chamber’s case was initiated by a complaint from Derrida’s publisher (Les Editions de Minuit) and the intervention of the French Embassy in Buenos Aires. According to cultural attaché Jean-François Gueganno “The gold standard in these cases is intellectual property. If you write a piece, you own the text and nobody can post them on a site to be accessed freely without the author’s consent”. Potel defends himself: “It was never my intention to make a profit. In 1999 I was fascinated by the unlimited possibilities the network offered for knowledge exchange. These sites are a lot of work for me and it is a tragedy for me that I have to remove them.”

The case has provoked widespread protest in cyberspace, highlighting the gray area between popularization and piracy. On the Potel page in Facebook, hundreds of users worldwide have expressed outrage at the “censorship”. One user summed up the opinion of the cyber-citizens: “What is happening is an outrage to the culture of human rights. An obscene display of the mechanisms of control, surveillance and punishment.”

(See original story in Spanish here:

SRI Pilipinas Song

This song is dedicated to all farmers who have successfully tried the System of RIce Intensification (SRI) and are now trying to convert their neighbors to the method. Sing to the tune of “Magtanim Ay Di Biro”.

Awit ng SRI-Pilipinas

isinulat ni Roberto Verzola
(sa himig ng Magtanim Ay Di Biro)


Halina, halina, mga kaliyag,
tayo’y magsipag-palay lahat.
Magbago tayo ng kaisipan;
S-Rr-I ang subukan. (Ending: S-Rr-I Pilipinas)

Contra-refrain: (kasabay ng Refrain)
Sa organic SRI, kalusuga’y gaganda;
gastos ay bababa, kabuha-ya’y sasagana.
Sa ingles, “system of rice intensification” sya;
tawaging Sipag-Palay sa mga magsasaka.


Magtanim ay masaya,
maghapong kumakanta.
Uupo kung pagod na;
tatayo kung puwede pa.


Inaamag na ka-nin,
sa pulot patatamisin.
Pitong araw ang hintayin,
I.M.O. ay gagawin.



Ang dayami’y ipunin,
sa I.M.O. ay diligin.
‘Sang buwan lang na bulukin,
isabog na sa bukirin.


Gawin mong uling ang ipa,
sa kama’y pampataba.
Sampung kilo’y ipunla,
isang ektarya kasya na.



Sampung araw na idad,
punla ay ililipat.
Puno ay isa-isa;
layo’y sampung pulgada


Ang tanim huwag ibabad;
mabubulok ang ugat.
Tatlong araw basain;
isang linggong patuyuin.



Sa tuwing sampung araw,
weeder ipambubungkal.
Ang damo’y matatanggal;
ang ugat, mahahanginan.


Gawa natin ay may saysay,
Kung suwi’y kumakapal.
Kung ito’y doble bilang,
Puwede nang ipagyabang!



Kung namumulaklak na,
tubig papasukin na.
Saya natin ay ikanta;
asahang ani’y maganda.


Kung SRI kabisado na,
tanim gawing iba-iba.
Palay, gulay, puno pa,
Pagkain at pambenta.


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!

Less wants mean more abundance

Working Paper

Less wants mean more abundance

by Roberto Verzola,

If we make the realistic assumption that people can be satiated, saturated or satisficed when meeting their needs and wants, we can show that wants have a finite bound and are not “infinite”, as many economists tend to assume.1

If wants are finite and their satisficing levels can be determined, then it becomes possible to compute the ratio between consumer demand for a good and its satisficing level for a person. We can call this ratio the state of relative abundance of a good for a particular person. By aggregating demand and satisficing levels for groups of people and entire societies, assuming that all consumers have a satisficing level for some goods, we can determine the state of relative abundance for these goods in a particular society. Since consumer demand is price-dependent, the state of abundance is also price-dependent and would show the same downward-sloping trend as the demand curve.

In fact, due to a number of factors, some societies show much lower aggregate levels of wants compared to other societies. This decreases the denominator of the demand-to-satisficing-level ratio, and suggesting a higher relative abundance level for these societies. Less wants mean more abundance. These “want-reducing” demand-side factors include:

A culture of cooperation

Cooperation among consumers raises the possibility of further improving the aggregate level abundance, given the same supply and individual demands. With common pooling of resources and cooperative consumption, a group of consumers can enjoy through sharing more goods or services and get nearer their satisficing levels, thereby improving their aggregate level of abundance. A car, for instance, may meet the daily commuting needs of one or up to five persons. Compared to books in someone’s shelf, books in a community library – or videos and CDs for that matter, can be enjoyed by many more people. A huge body of literature can be found around common pool resources and the best ways to manage them.2 Perfect cooperation, which leads to more abundance, is as important an economic concept as perfect competition. A properly-managed free commons, like a freely accessible public library of books, CDs and DVDs, can help create more abundance as much as an unregulated free market often leads to artificial scarcities.

Simple living

Beyond the pooling of resources, cultural mechanisms can also bring satisfaction levels and demand down. In some societies, this can be a major factor in improving the level of abundance. Extolling simple living, highlighting voluntary simplicity, focusing on the spiritual aspects of life, or idealizing asceticism are various ways by which some societies have deemphasized material accumulation and enhanced their level of abundance from the demand side. As Gandhi put it when describing his own experiments in voluntary simplicity, “the real seat of taste was not the tongue but the mind.”3

Focusing on needs

Among the entire range of human needs and wants, it can be argued that not all of these should be treated on equal footing. Obviously, grey areas can exist. However, most will surely agree that those necessities which enable each person to simply survive and live his/her natural life span and each society to reproduce itself should be on top of any hierarchy of needs and wants. These include clean air, potable water, healthy food, protection from the elements and disease, and similar goods and services. If a society focuses on such goods and services its efforts to build abundance, the range of needs and wants that need to be satisficed is narrowed down even further.4

The economics of altruism

There have been societies where one’s worth is measured not in terms of how much one has accumulated, but in terms of how much one has given away. Many still admire this ideal and try to practise it occasionally or even regularly.5 Practised widely, altruism can help cut down the highs and fill in the lows in the income distribution. Filling in the lows, in particular, can reduce society’s failure rate, with direct impact on those who most need it. The continuing and even increasing role of charitable foundations, non-profit organizations and similar institutions reflects the persistence of altruism as a factor in poverty reduction efforts.

Economics of fairness

It is not only a sense of altruism or charity that should impel a society to ensure its members’ minimum basic needs, as these needs are called today in development circles. It is also a matter of fairness, justice and equity. We know that something is terribly wrong in the dominant economics of a society like the U.S. when, despite appropriating for itself much of the world’s resources and leading in the development of new technologies, 11% of the country’s adults and 17% of its children still suffer from occasional involuntary hunger.6 It is also from the U.S. where we get an example of a promising approach. The State of Alaska’s Permanent Fund is one example of an effort to guarantee a minimum income for every citizen.7 Many parallel efforts have been launched to develop the concept of a basic income guarantee (BIG).8

We have shown that abundance is a matter not only of supply but also of demand. Where societies are more cooperative rather than competitive, where a simple life of material sufficiency and intellectual/spiritual richness is instead sought after, where those who enjoy abundance are passionate about sharing it, and where the means for meeting the most basic human needs receive the most attention as a matter of right, then the members of these societies can enjoy much greater abundance.

1Verzola, Roberto. 2009. “Finite Wants Make Relative Abundance Possible”.

2See, for instance, Elinor Ostrom, Thomas Dietz, Nives Dolšak, Paul Stern, Susan Stonich and Elke Weber (eds.). 2002. The Drama of the Commons. National Academy Press, Washington, DC. See also Elinor Ostrom. 1990. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge University, Cambridge.

3Gandhi, M. K. 1927. An Autobiography (The Story of My Experiments with Truth). Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad. p. 52.

4 See Frank Rotering. 2008. Needs and Limits: A New Economics for Sustainable Well-Being (2nd ed.).

5The term “gift economy” may not be appropriate to describe this, since gifts are often seen as signalling mechanisms with various other motivations aside from altruism.

6Food Research and Action Center, “Hunger in the U.S.”,

7Alaska Department of Revenue Permanent Fund Dividend Division. “FAQs”. See also Alanna Hartzok. 2002. “The Alaska Permanent Fund: A Model of Resource Rents for Public Investment and Citizen Dividends”. Earth Rights Institute.

8The U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network. “What is the basic income guarantee?”

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.

BNPP safety: whose burden of proof?

Pangasinan Representative Mark Cojuangco wants the Philippine government to spend up to $1 billion to recommission the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP). Yet, he has presented no recent technical, economic or financial feasibility study to back up his claim that, once operational, the BNPP will be safe and will produce cheap electricity. And it is clear that he has not done or commissioned any such study. He could only cite the feasibility studies done during the Marcos presidency, more than thirty years ago.

With regards to the safety of the BNPP, three relatively more recent studies had been made, when the Aquino administration decided to mothball the plant. In 1986, they asked U.N. Center for Transnational Corporations to do a technical review. This was followed by a detailed technical audit by the NUS Corporation, a U.S. nuclear consultancy firm, which assembled a 15-person team of experts from the U.S., Germany, Brazil, South Korea and Japan. Its report was submitted in 1988. A third study was commissioned by the government in 1990 by 50 nuclear experts from the U.S. and Europe. These studies all concluded that the plant would be unsafe to operate.

From 1986 when it was mothballed to the present, the BNPP lay idle. In the meantime, given the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, international and national regulatory authorities have further raised their safety standards.

We must remember that the BNPP was designed and built according to old, pre-1986 standards.

To claim that the BNPP will be safe to operate today, and will furthermore produce cheap electricity, the burden of proof is on Cojuangco to show that this is so.

And so far, the public has seen no such proof.

Studies show more cancers around nuclear plants

Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan wants the government to raise up to $1 billion to recommission the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP), which has been idle for 22 years.

Conjuangco insists, with no recent technical feasibility studies to back him up, that the BNPP is safe and economical, despite previous government studies that say otherwise.

One of the major safety issues against nuclear plants is that their daily regular operation releases minute amounts of radioactive materials that causes human diseases. A number of studies have indicated, for instance, that the incidence of leukemia and other cancers is higher within a 5-10 kilometer radius around nuclear plants.

I have tracked down some of these studies and are making them available here.

1. A 2007 German study by Kaatsch, Spix, of 593 childhood leukemia cases between 1980 and 2003 found that incident went up as distance to the plant went down. The nearer to a nuclear plant a child was, the higher the risk of leukemia. Download the report here.

2. A 2003 review by Chang, Dave, found “a consistent pattern of childhood cancer incidence in all study areas <30 mi (48 km) from nuclear plants in the eastern United States”. The study also cites similar studies in Canada, France, Germany and the former Soviet Union which found “elevated childhood carcer incidence rates proximate to nuclear facilities”. Download the report here.

3. A 1996 U.S. review of data by Wing, Richardson, covering cancer cases ub areas exoised to the Three-Mile Island ITMI) accident. They conclude that “[TMI] accident doses were positively associated with cancer incidence. Associations were largest for leukemia, intermediate for lung cancer, and smallest for all cancers combined”. Download the report here.

While the third study is associated with a major nuclear accident, the first and second studies involve nuclear plants which have not had major accidents of the TMI type. Even without accidents as serious as the TMI accident, nuclear power plants can still causes cancers.

Five years from now, can nuclear plants compete with solar power?

A bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan is being rushed for approval in Congress. If the bill passes, the Philippine government will raise up to $1 billion to finance the recommissioning of the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP).

Cojuangco has done no technical, economic or financial feasibility study to support his claims that a recommissioned BNPP can operate safely and economically. The bill’s explanatory notes contains no comparison between the projected cost of BNPP electricity and renewable sources like wind, solar, microhydro, geothermal, etc.

The photovoltaic panels themselves typically comprise about 60% of the total installed cost of a complete photovoltaic system. With solar panel costs approaching $1/watt peak (or $1.7/Wp for complete systems), we are looking at $1.05 billion for 620 MWp). While this is still as expensive as Cojuangco’s unsubstantiated (“supposed”, according to him) $1 billion for the 620 MWe BNPP, the solar power systems can be installed a few hundred peak watts at a time, as needed, and they will start producing electricity immediately, with none of the associated problems of financial risks, nuclear fuel costs, decommissioning costs, nuclear waste disposal problems, various other hidden costs, higher cancer risks around the plant, accident risks, risks from earthquakes or volcanic eruptions

Furthermore, while nuclear costs keep going up, solar and wind generation costs are going down. So any comparison made today will even be more favorable to these renewables five to ten years from now.

Remember that the most expensive parts of a photovoltaic system are the solar panels and the controllers, which are both electronic and made from silicon (which is made from sand). They will therefore show the same economics of scale as computers, LCD projectors, DVD players, and other electronic products, whose prices are steadily going down. With China coming into the picture in as a major producer of photovoltaic panels and controllers, their prices are bound to go down rather fast.

Here’s one industry report about the costs of photovoltaic cells.

Photovoltaic costs to plummet in 2009

11 December 2008 — The cost of photovoltaic electricity is due to plummet in 2009, according to analysts at New Energy Finance. Its quarterly Silicon and Wafer Price Index shows average silicon contract prices falling by over 30 percent in 2009, compared with 2008.

With thin-film PV module manufacturing costs approaching the $1 per watt mark, crystalline silicon-based PV will come under severe competition for larger projects, resulting in margins shrinking throughout the silicon value chain, the company states.

Although the decrease in silicon prices will be good news for silicon-based cell and module-makers, another threat is now looming larger. According to the new report, “Through Thick and Thin,” New Energy Finance forecasts that production of thin-film photovoltaic modules will more than quadruple to 1.9 GW in 2009.

Thin-film PV is less efficient at converting solar energy to electricity, with efficiencies of as much as 11 percent rather than the up to 18 percent displayed by commercial crystalline silicon technology. However, with manufacturing costs approaching $1/watt, it is an attractive option for larger space-constrained applications.

For a ground-mounted plant in a region with good insolation, this could translate into an unsubsidised generation cost of $0.17/kWh for crystalline silicon – competitive with daytime peak electricity prices in many parts of the world. Meanwhile, thin-film manufacturers can achieve unsubsidised costs of $0.13/kWh for the same large project by 2010.

For the full story, see: