Govt urged to act on $1-B Bataan nuclear plant rehab

Lean Santos

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The 620-megawatt facility will help with the power supply requirement of the country, according to an official of the state power firm

MOTHBALLED. The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), constructed in 1984, remains idle after 29 years. Photo by Lean Santos/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – State-run power firm National Power Corporation (Napocor) is hoping the national government considers the proposed $1 billion rehabilitation plan for the long-stalled Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP).

In a press tour of the nuclear facility in Morong, Bataan on May 28, Napocor nuclear energy core group manager Mauro Marcelo Jr. said a go signal from Malacañang is necessary in reviving the 29-year-old power facility to address a possible power crisis in the country.

“We’re only waiting for the go signal of the national government if we can (rehabilitate and) operate the plant,” he said.

The $1 billion rehabilitation cost will mostly be spent on upgrades and replacements of about 25% of the facility’s equipments. The rest of the budget will be poured into preservation and maintenance of the nuclear plant.

The government has to pick up the tab since no private player will likely want to get involved in the nuclear facility project, he added. 

“The government will be the operator. No plans for PPP (public-private partnership) since costs are high and the insurance is huge. Private companies may not be able to shoulder it,” Marcelo said.

HOPEFUL. NAPOCOR nuclear-energy core group manager hopes the national government considers the rehabilitation plan for BNPP. Photo by Katerina Francisco/Rappler

Power crisis

A power crisis in Luzon and Visayas has concerned interest groups as the ongoing rotating brownouts in Mindanao show the impact to the economy is devastating.

The rising demand for power in the southern part of the Philippines coupled with the dipping of the water level of the Lanao Lake during the summer season aggravates the issue. Hydropower is Mindanao’s main source of cheap energy. 

In Luzon, a series of power outages hit different parts of the country and causing widespread blackouts before the May 13 midterm elections. 

Energy secretary Jericho Petilla said outages were not caused by lack of supply but the transmission lines that transport power to homes and establishments.

The increasing power demand of the country should be addressed if it wants to make growth sustainable, Marcelo said.

POWER PLAN. Map of the Philippine Power System Development by NAPOCOR inside the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. Photo by Lean Santos/Rappler

Wasted potential

Sitting idle for almost 3 decades, Marcelo said the facility’s potential to provide cheaper power in the country is wasted the longer it remains dormant.

He said that with the BNPP’s 620 MW power capacity, it can supply the 10% power requirement of the Luzon grid. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), Luzon’s peak demand in May reach 5,521 MW.

Marcelo said nuclear power is cheaper and will bring down the high costs of electricity in the country. The Philippines is considered to have one of the highest electricity prices in the region.

“When we operate the nuclear power plant in the first 20 years, the cost of electricity (per kilowatt hour) is about P1. It will go to about P2 per kWh for the transmission cost. With coal, it can cost about P6.”

“When you have a power plant that is priced lower than the market, it will normalize the pricing level of the power market,” he added.

INSIDE THE FACILITY. The BNPP reactor producing the power. Photo by Lean Santos/Rappler

The entire US$2.3 billion debt from the nuclear facility was fully paid in 2007. Original amount loaned by the government for the construction of BNPP is $1.9 billion, with interests amounting to around $400 milion and putting the country in huge debt.

BNPP was considered to be the “single largest debt item of the Philippines” according to a report by the National Institute of Geological Sciences (NIGS) of the University of the Philippines (UP).

Even after 2007, the government is still incurring costs for the maintenance of the nuclear facility. According to Marcelo, about P50 million a year is allocated for the maintenance of BNPP.

SEALED. The control room of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) sealed with preservation entry tags. Photo by Lean Santos/Rappler

Mothballed project

Operations of the 620 megawatt (MW) facility has been delayed since construction was completed in 1984 due to safety and environmental concerns as well as corruption in the contract process.

In April, the Sandiganbayan ordered businessman and Marcos crony Herminio Disini to return to the government a total of $50,562,500 worth of commissions for the BNPP project.

Disini served as broker for the nuclear project between the government and private contractor Westinghouse Electric Corp.

The nuclear facility was shelved indefinitely after the devastating Chernobyl incident in Russia back in April 1986. This forced the administration of former president Cory Aquino to mothball the project.

Interest in operating the nuclear plant was revived under other administrations, including that of former president Fidel Ramos in 1995, but these were shelved. –

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