POSTSCRIPT / January 22, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Duterte urged to add nuclear energy mix

A VISITING American environmentalist is making the rounds, stirring in his wake renewed discussion on the benefits-vs-risks of using nuclear energy to generate cheaper electricity.

He is Michael Shellenberger, president of Environmental Progress and a Time magazine “Hero of the Environment” award-winning author. His message in his meetings with government officials: We need nuclear energy to lift people out of poverty and protect the natural environment.

He says: “Island nations like the Philippines (which he says imports 90 percent of its energy), need nuclear energy. Nuclear can create high-paying jobs and save billions spent importing coal, oil, and natural gas. Renewables like solar and wind are too expensive, unreliable and require too much land.

“Nuclear energy is the safest way to make electricity. It produces no deadly smoke. While people were scared of Fukushima and other accidents, the only harm was from panic, not radiation, which proves that our fears of nuclear are more dangerous than the technology.”

In an open letter, Shellenberger also urged President Duterte to include nuclear energy in the national power-mix to reduce the cost of electricity.

He plans to visit on Thursday the mothballed 600-megawatt nuclear power plant in Morong, Bataan, which was built at an overprice by then President Marcos and left idle by his successors from Cory Aquino to incumbent Rodrigo Duterte.

Shellenberger reports that “around the world, from the United States and Europe to South Korea and Taiwan, people are overcoming their fears and voting to re-start their nuclear plants — for economic and environmental reasons.”

The Department of Energy says that the total power nationwide demand for 2019 is expected to peak at 11.2 gigawatts in Luzon, nearly 4 percent higher than the 10.8 gw in 2018. Demand will continue to rise with population growth and the acceleration of economic development.

The DoE describes the uneasy situation thus: “Supply will be tight and demand will be high, and the reserves will be just enough given the scheduled maintenance.

Joe Zaldarriaga, Meralco public information head, said that the peak demand in 2018 was 7,399 mw, 6.1 percent higher than the 6,973 mw in 2017. For Luzon, the peak demand in 2018 was 10,876 mw, 8.2 percent higher than 2017’s 10,054 mw.

From 2012 to first half of 2018, he said, Luzon demand grew by 52 percent, outpacing growth of generating capacity which went up by only 29 percent. Around one-fifth of Luzon’s generating capacity is intermitted renewable energy (eg. solar and wind) or rainfall dependent (hydro).

Many plants, mostly coal-fired, are old and generating below their rated capacity. Preventive maintenance leaves them idle for some periods on rotation.

We asked Greggy Romualdez, external affairs head of TeaM Energy Corp., one of the largest private producers of electricity in the country, about startup costs. He said that as a rule, an investor putting up a new coal-fired plant needs at least $2 million per megawatt. So a 600-mw plant will entail around $1.2 billion (all in).

How will a nuclear plant’s feasibility compare? We are awaiting the experts, such as Shellenberger and proponents, to tell us and help overcome the resistance to reviving the nuclear plant sitting forlorn on a promontory in Morong.

 How about visiting a White Elephant?

AFTER we visited the idle Bataan nuclear power plant in August 2013, we left feeling disturbed about its having gone to waste.

Little did we expect to see there former Pangasinan Rep. Mark O. Cojuangco, a fierce advocate of nuclear energy, touring a group around the site and showing the innards of the sleeping White Elephant.

He argued for the restarting of the $2.2-billion BNPP – possibly then at a cost of $1 billion — so it could contribute cheaper electricity to the national grid. Once we have it going, he said, the billions sunk into it could be recovered in three years.

Some P40 million had been allocated for the BNPP’s upkeep – like a car, it will get stuck up and deteriorate if nothing moves – but the Noynoy Aquino administration deleted the maintenance fund from the budget.

In 2013, Cojuangco estimated that the BNPP, after rehab, could generate electricity at a cost of only P2.50/kilowatt-hour. We have not seen current figures.  But for comparison, Meralco’s overall average generation charge in the last nine months of 2018 was P5.06/kwh.

The reasons given by the Cory administration for not operating the BNPP were its supposedly being unsafe sitting close to inactive volcano Mt. Natib, its being riddled with defects – and its being a bitter fruit of Marcosian corruption.

The project, whose principal cost was $1,419,380,000 ($2,118,730,000 when interest is added) was allegedly overpriced by $369 million — using as basis the presumed clean $1,050,000,000 price of Kori-II, a Korean plant that is a virtual twin in age and design of the BNPP.

Cojuangco (cousin of Noynoy Aquino) noted that the cost of Kori-II was recovered in just six years, showing what he said was the viability of a nuclear plant.

As to radiation hazards, he said that eating a banana, rich in phosphorus, exposes one to more radioactivity than standing in front of a nuclear plant for an entire year. A banana contains 0.1 microsieverts of radiation, while the 365-day exposure subjects a person to only 0.09 microsieverts of radiation.

Cojuangco said the casualties in Fukishima were killed by the tsunami that swept the area, not because of radiation leak. Fukushima was designed for a seismic acceleration of 0.18G, while the Bataan plant had a higher threshold of 0.4G.

He showed a letter of Director Renato Solidum of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology saying that “the buffer zone against rupturing recommended by Phivolcs is at least five meters on both sides of a verified trace or from the edge of the deformation zone.”

Solidum said that since the BNPP is at least 64 kms south of the Iba Fault in Zambales, 78 kms northwest of the West Valley Fault System in Marikina and 83 kms south of the East Zambales Fault, it is “safe from the hazard of ground rupture related to fault movement.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 22, 2019)

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