POSTSCRIPT / October 31, 2010 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Go nuclear to solve chronic power lack?

SUBIC BAY — Much of the prognosis in the air point to a possible return of crippling power blackouts early next year, more markedly in summer.

The figures I have seen indicate that while the peak demand nationwide is around 9,500 megawatts (7,000 mw of it in Luzon), the current dependable supply totals 10,500 mw, showing a slim reserve for a surge in demand.

If the supply drops and/or the requirement rises sharply for any reason, such as rapid industrialization (which is unlikely at the rate we are crawling), we could be in trouble, especially in summer when the hydroelectric plants usually go idle.

Statistics show that demand for electricity rises 4.5 percent every year, but we do not hear of any commensurate projected annual increase in the power supply in the near future.

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DARK SHROUD: It is so embarrassing that the national capital itself, served by the closely-monitored Luzon grid, is often visited by blackouts for a variety of reasons, including incompetence of managers.

The few users who can afford it have started shopping for electric generators. Most of us captive consumers, however, can do nothing but wait for the dark shroud to fall.

Meanwhile, some applications for new power projects in the Visayas are reportedly snagged in the bureaucracy. In Mindanao where most hydroelectric plants are located, a few isolated areas are still experiencing rotating blackouts, some of them as punishing as eight hours.

In this rumor-driven town, however, it could be that the pessimism being spread is just part of a campaign to stampede the government into easing restrictions and passing project proposals without much due diligence.

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WAKE UP!: In the unusual event that the government wakes up and rushes the building of more power generators, that may be too late since it takes around three years to construct and begin operating a new electric plant.

That building frenzy scenario assumes we have the billions needed. That, or we are able to induce enough investors, despite our notoriously ever-changing policies, to bring in the $1.5-million needed for every megawatt of capacity of a new (coal-fired) plant.

What might be useful right now, before everybody panics, are an honest situation report and a long-term program of action from the Department of Energy.

As we wave to passing investors on their way to other Asian locations, let us reflect on this: With our 95-million population, we have a dependable power supply of only 10,000 mw, while our twin Thailand with a population of 60 million has a power supply of 30,000 mw.

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IS BNPP SAFE?: An email from Pangasinan Rep. Kimi S. Cojuangco, vice chair of the House committee on energy, published here last Tuesday proposing that the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant be resurrected elicited reactions, pro and con.

Although she averred that nuclear power has been found to be the safest, cleanest and cheapest form, she asked about the BNPP, “Is it safe?”

To which retired engineer Josefino Galeng of Cabanatuan City, who was a superintended in the assembly and installation of the nuclear reactor components of the BNPP, reacted in an email:

“When Westinghouse got the contract to build the BNPP, they asked President Marcos under what ‘building code’ were they going to build it. Marcos’ reply went something like this: ‘You can use the Philippine standards or the American standards so long as you follow it.’

“Westinghouse chose the American standard to which Marcos agreed and signed the contract. This letter communication of President Marcos was considered the binding principle upon which the BNPP was to be built and operated.

“Being an American company, Westinghouse is under the jurisdiction of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which inspects and audits during the manufacture or fabrication of nuclear reactor componentsup to installation and operation of the power plant itself.

“The USNRC requires for approval a PSAR (Preliminary Stress Analysis Report) before actual fabrication and construction begins. This is a set of documents (about 30 volumes) showing the design, calculations, engineering judgment, and all other conditions under which the plant is to be constructed and operated.

“Prior to operation, a FSAR (Final Stress Analysis Report) was submitted to the USNRC. This is similar to the PSAR, but it incorporates the revisions, additions, deletions, recalculations, etc., of the original design. This FSAR was approved by USNRC.

“Approval by USNRC meant the uranium fuel could now be loaded into the nuclear reactor vessel and start operation. The BNPP was constructed in accordance with USNRC rules and regulations. Its safety, quality and integrity are not compromised. No other ‘experts’ can claim otherwise.”

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CHECK OUT KORI 2: Galeng noted that the BNPP, designed to produce 621 megawatts, has an identical twin in South Korea: the KORI 2 nuclear power plant.

He said: “Construction of KORI 2 and BNPP were completed at the same time. KORI 2 is still operated by simply refueling it at regular intervals. This is a solid proof of the reliability of operating the BNPP.

“I suggest Rep. Cojuangco and her fellow committee members visit the KORI 2 Nuclear Power Plant to see and feel how BNPP would operate when activated.

“But the real question is how to activate BNPP. Where do we get the money? (And how long will it take? – fdp). The answer lies in the scheme that was implemented by President Ramos when he fixed the crippling rotating brownouts during the Cory administration until the start of his administration in 1992.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 31, 2010)

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