POSTSCRIPT / January 29, 2019 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Reviving idle nuclear plant a flawed idea?

COMES now a science professor emeritus of the University of Illinois questioning the sales talk of an American environmentalist who came over last week to urge the government to use nuclear energy to generate cheaper electricity.

The debate pits Dr. Kelvin S. Rodolfo, professor emeritus of earth and environmental sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, versus Michael Shellenberger, president of Environmental Progress, who holds a master’s degree in cultural anthropology.

As reported in our Postscript of Jan. 22, Shellenberger suggested during his visit – without giving a feasibility study — the reactivation of the mothballed 600-megawatt (per original design) nuclear power plant in Morong, Bataan.

Rodolfo shot that down as a bad idea. Aside from submitting research findings on the geological risks in the BNPP site near Mt. Natib in Bataan, Rodolfo called attention to these points:

* Nuclear weaponry and nuclear energy are inseparable twins that should be studied together.

* Uranium is not a local fuel, and its use would place the Philippines at the mercy of foreign producers.

* Uranium is a finite and shrinking resource that is increasingly competed for as reactors proliferate globally.

* Uranium is not as ‘carbon free’ as Shellenberger and the nuclear lobby say, making 1/3rd as much carbon dioxide per kilowatt as natural gas before reaching the reactor.

* Nuclear wastes remain toxic for hundreds of thousands of years, and permanent waste storage has yet to be achieved by any country.

Rodolfo recalled that on Oct. 16, 2017, Shellenberger wrote: “Fifty-one nations have nuclear energy; just nine have weapons. What more proof is needed that nuclear energy prevents the spread of nuclear weapons than the fact that South Korea has nuclear energy and no weapon while North Korea was denied nuclear energy and obtained a weapon?”

Then on Oct. 30, 2017, he told the IAEA: “One of FOE-Greenpeace’s biggest lies about nuclear energy is that it leads to weapons. Korea demonstrates that the opposite is true: North Korea has a nuclear bomb and no nuclear energy, while South Korea has nuclear energy and no bomb.”

But less than a year later (Aug. 29, 2018) Shellenberger wrote in “xxx Of the 26 nations around the world that are building or are committed to build nuclear power plants, 23 have a weapon, had a weapon, or have shown interest in acquiring a weapon…. []

“The 13 nations that had a weapons program, or have shown interest in acquiring a weapon, are Argentina, Armenia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Japan, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“This trend fits the historic pattern. In the 60 years of civilian nuclear power, at least 20 nations sought nuclear power at least in part to give themselves the option of creating a nuclear weapon….

“xxx While those 23 nations clearly have motives other than national security for pursuing nuclear energy, gaining weapons latency appears to be the difference-maker.

“xxx After over 60 years of national security driving nuclear power into the international system, we can now add ‘preventing war’ to the list of nuclear energy’s superior characteristics?”

Exclaiming “Ano ba yan!” Rodolfo advised whoever “imported” Shellenberger as his advocate for opening BNPP: “His credentials need serious examination because the issue is a matter of life and death for Filipinos, long after he leaves the country. So what if Time once named him ‘Hero of the Environment’?”

 ‘Sounds like a snake-oil salesman’

THE REASONS given by the Cory Aquino administration for not operating the BNPP were its supposedly being unsafe sitting close to Mt. Natib, its being riddled with technical 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 overpriced by $369 million — based on 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.

Reacting to the same Postscript of Jan. 22, Rene AV Saguisag, one of the closest advisers of Cory Aquino, wrote us:

“I read with interest your column on shifting to nuclear energy. I chaired the Cabinet Committee (1986) and the Senate Committee (1987-1992) on the Bataan nuke power plant. Experts convinced us then that safety concerns aside, it was beyond economic repair. The 70’s model may need upgrading and may be more costly now to put it on line, instead of building a new one from the ground up.

“If there is a Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) nuke disaster, do we have the experience and expertise to deal with same? We are not as technologically sophisticated as the Americans, Russians and Japanese, given our puede-na-bahala-na mentality. Left with the American jeep in 1945, Japan now has the Lexus; we have the dyipni, uncomfortable, dangerous, with a lot of borloloy. So Pinoyesque.

“What do we do with the nuke waste? We cannot even handle our ordinary waste problem.

“If not in Bataan, where then? NIMBY, Not in my Backyard, baby. We add the hidden social cost and the price would be humongous indeed. Unaffordable, from where I sit.

“This is a country where taking the Skyway from Makati to Alabang, one ends up with heavy traffic in the toll plaza, which common sense says should be like that in Balintawak, by simply widening it. And then after getting past the plaza, going to San Beda Law Alabang, for a long stretch, one lane! Suppose my old vehicle (Starex) makes tirik (our Safari goes back to 1994)?

“I live in Palanan, Makati. Going up the Skyway from the Buendia overpass, one goes down to the right, competing with vehicles crossing from the right, etc.. Weird. And I became a widower partly cuz from Pasay Road, there is no clear view of traffic coming from the south, etc.. So accident-prone.

“Any expert saying that no one died from radiation in Chernobyl sounds like a snake-oil salesman to me.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 29, 2019)

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