Tag Archives: Cojuangco

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 (http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleid=432830). 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 https://rverzola.wordpress.com.

*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 Inquirer.net report says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a waste!

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.

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.

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.

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, et.al. 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, et.al. 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, et.al. 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.

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Cojuangco’s cavalier method of costing the BNPP recommissioning

Setting aside the more important consideration of safety for the moment, the overall cost of recommissioning the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP) as proposed by Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan should be a major factor in the decision of the Committee of Appropriations and the Congress as a whole whether or not to approve Cojuangco’s bill.

The Cojuangco bill wants the government to raise up to $I billion to finance the recommissioning of the BNPP. Remember that this is not for building a new plant from scratch, but to rehabilitate for operation a plant that was nearly complete but hss been idle for 22 years.

Where did Cojuangco get the figure of $1 billion? Certainly not from any technical, economic or financial feasibility study, because it was obvious at the Feb. 2 hearing of the Congress Committee on Appropriations he has not done or commissioned any. Here is what his explanatory note to his BNPP recommissioning bill says, word for word.

Cost to rehabilitate

The alternative to the rehabilitation of the BNPP is an equivalently sized coal fired power plant or gas fired power plant.

Such a plant would supposedly cost between U.S. $900 million to $1 billion.

It stands to reason therefore, that BNPP should come in under these costs or at the very worst, at an equal to this cost.

But it is not quite as simple as that because we do have to consider the hidden costs and risks involved in building a coal or gas fired power plant, as I have maybe already overstated.

I personally believe that the cost should be at about half of a new coal fired power plant. My reasoning for such a conclusion will be argued at committee. I do recognize that there may be matters which I have not considered in my estimation of these costs but I am sure that they will be brought out in committee.

That’s it. Cojuangco was looking at what coal plants of equivalent output “supposedly” cost. Then he reasons out that the recommissioning of the BNPP cannot exceed this supposed cost, although he “personally” believes it should be half as much. Not even a single Wikipedia article cited, although he does quote, in the preceding section, Greenpeace renegade Patrick Moore who is presumably more credible. So the bill itself provides for the “supposed” $1 billion instead of the $500 million that Cojuangco “personally believes” should be the true cost.

On the basis of such cavalier costing method, Cojuangco wants the government to collect from all electricity consumers or borrow from abroad up to $1 billion. This admittedly overstated amount is supposed to recommission a 22-year old unused nuclear plant whose safety remains unresolved and whose true recommissioning costs are unknown, if indeed it is still even possible to recommission it.

At least, President Ferdinand Marcos went through the process of commissioning a pre-investment study by the IAEA in 1966. Another IAEA-assisted feasibility study by U.S. consultants financed by the UNDP was commissioned by the Marcos martial law regime, which took power in September 1972. The feasibility study was finished in July 1973, leading directly to a Marcos announcement the same month that the Philippines will build its first nuclear power plant. At this point, the cost estimates for a new nuclear plant were still in the US$600 million range.

Cojuangco does not even have a feasibility study yet.

This is worse than déjà vu.

Cojuangco’s BNPP bill will tax renewables to fund nuclear plant

While the rest of the world want to subsidize renewable energy to hasten our shift to renewables, Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan instead wants renewables to subsidize the rehabilitation of a nuclear plant of questionable safely, justifying his proposal not with expert feasibility studies but with Wikipedia articles and sound-bytes from Greenpeace renegade Patrick Moore.

This is what Sec. 22 of Cojuangco’s bill to recommission the BNPP says:

“The State may raise equity through a surcharge of PhP 0.10/kWH of the total electric power generated in the country: Provided, That such collection of surcharge shall not exceed five (5) years from the date of its initial imposition.”

Cojuangco wants to impose a surcharge on all electric power generated, including coal, natural gas, geothermal, solar, wind, microhydro, biogas and other renewables, and use the amount to recommission the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP). Because the surcharge is also a fixed amount, this also means that the cheaper the source of electricity, the greater the percentage surcharge that source will have to pay. So as renewables improve their efficiency and performance in the next five years, as they are expected to, they will be paying more, percentage-wise. And as oil-based plants produce more expensive electricity in the next five years as oil prices escalate, they will be paying less, percentage-wise.

So not only does Cojuangco want renewables to subsidize the BNPP recommissioning, he also wants the renewables to carry a greater burden of the subsidy as renewables get cheaper, and non-nuclear non-renewables.to carry a lighter burden as they get more expensive.

If the amount collected is not enough, Cojuangco then wants the government to borrow money, from local or foreign sources, to complete the $1 billion he says is “supposedly” needed to recommission the BNPP. This is what Sec. 22 further says:

“The State is also authorized to enter into international or domestic loan agreements to fund the implementation of this Act: Provided, That the total funds raised from the surchange and the loan combined shall not exceed US$1 billion.”

The government will collect from electricity consumers or borrow from abroad up to $1 billion to recommission a 22-year old unused nuclear plant whose safety remains unresolved?

Déjà vu.

BNPP recommissioning proponent Cojuangco has no feasibility study, only Wikipedia articles

I attended a Congressional hearing today (Feb. 2) held by the Committee on Appropriations on the bill “mandating the rehabilitation, commissioning and commercial operation of the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP)”. Safety concerns had led the Aquino government to mothball the BNPP in 1986, before it could start operations. Some congressmen now want the BNPP rehabilitated, after 22 years of non-operation.

The main proponent of the bill is Representative Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan, who spoke first, followed by a presentation by Ramon Orosa of Atoms for Peace and Dr. Carlo Arcilla of the National Institute of Geological Sciences of the University of the Philippines (NIGS-UP), who said his pro-nuclear position was a personal one and not the official position of the Institute. Rep. Ma. Milagros Magsaysay of Zambales also expressed her support.

For the oppositors, Rep. Edcel Lagman spoke first. Then, oppositor Rep. Erin Tanada of Quezon presented five resource persons to explain why they were against the bill: Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo also of NIGS-UP, Von Hernandez of Greenpeace International, former Rep. Etta Rosales of Akbayan/Freedom from Debt Coalition, Dr. Giovanni Tapang of the Institute of Physics of the University of the Philippines, and myself, representing the Philippine Greens. Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel also spoke in opposition. I consider Dr. Rodolfo’s presentation to be the most substantial in so far as the risk of operating the BNPP is concerned. His basic message: the BNPP site “has an unacceptably high risk of serious damage from earthquakes, volcanism, or both.”

It was clear from Cojuangco’s presentation that he had not done or commissioned any recent technical, economic or financial feasibility study to justify his proposal to rehabilitate the BNPP. Rep. Lagman had specifically asked if there were any such studies. I had also asked for them in my presentation, so that we could scrutinize their assumptions, arguments and conclusions. Cojuangco subsequently replied that studies have been done since U.S. president Eisenhower’s time as well as under Philippine president Marcos’ administration. Aside from these, all he could cite were some Wikipedia articles, quotes from Greenpeace renegade Patrick Moore and claims that identical NPPs in South Korea, Slovenia and Brazil were still running today with “impeccable safety records,” which was not quite true.

Despite the absence of any recent technical, economic or financial feasibility study to justify his bill, Cojuangco kept asserting that the BNPP would be safe and economical once recommissioned and wanted Congress to authorize that $1 billion be raised through a special surcharge on all electric power generated in the country and through domestic or foreign borrowings to finance the rehabilitation. It sounded like a very reckless approach to me, allotting the equivalent of P47 billion to a project without the benefit of prior study whether it was technically, economically or financially feasible.

Not only could Cojuangco present no recent feasibility study, his proposed bill and explanatory note also contained misrepresentations and false claims. I pointed out a few in my presentation entitled “BNPP Rehabilitation: More Questions Than Answers”. (In subsequent posts, I will dissect Cojuangco’s bill and explanatory notes more thoroughly.)

  1. The assertion that the Krsko, Angra 1 and Kori 2 nuclear plants have “impeccable safety records” is not true at all, as a simple search on the Internet will show. Krsko, for instance, just had a serious loss-of-coolant accident last June 4, 2008.
  2. The assertions citing Cabato et.al. about the last eruption of Mt. Natib, on which the BNPP stands, have been disowned by Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, one of the authors of the Cabato study, who accused Cojuangco of “abuse” and “distortion” of scientific data.
  3. The assertion of a 3,000 megawatt shortfall by 2012 is now highly questionable, given the deepening global recession affecting every country in the world.
  4. The assertion that no one else has died from an accident in any nuclear plant apart from Chernobyl is simply untrue, given at least six deaths that have occurred in NPP-related accidents in Japan alone.

In the hearing, I raised the question: how can we trust the rest of the assertions in the bill and its explanatory notes, when a casual browsing as we did immediately finds such questionable assertions? I got no satisfactory answer from Cojuangco.

I will post here Cojuangco’s verbatim replies once I get the hearing transcripts.

I found the conduct of the hearing by Rep. Junie Cua, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, quite even-handed. Given the number of congressmen who co-sponsored Cojuangco’s bill, however, there is a good chance it can pass through Congress, despite its cavalier approach of justifying a huge project costing $1 billion or more with empty assertions of safety and low cost unsubstantiated by expert studies. (Apparently Cojuangco did not even realize that Wikipedia articles and sound-bites from Greenpeace renegade Patrick Moore were not good enough.)

If Cojuangco’s incredible bill makes it, then only the Senate can save the nation from another monumental folly.