Bataan Nuclear Power Plant

[OPINION] Who decides whether Bataan should go nuclear?

Lolita Castillo

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[OPINION] Who decides whether Bataan should go nuclear?

Raffy de Guzman/Rappler

'The plant is located near to not one but four volcanoes, in an area prone to earthquakes'

Bataan, a beautiful peninsula located west of the Philippine capital, Manila, is most famous for a couple of things. One, it was where the Death March began following the defeat of the allied forces of American and Filipino soldiers led by Gen. Douglas McArthur against the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. Two, it is where the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) with a price tag of $2.3 billion idly resides, unoperated for nearly four decades.

Bataan residents did not have any sort of control or say in these two circumstances that brought their province to prominence. The former, BNPP’s construction amid opposition, was decided without their consent, and the latter a byproduct of the irrationalities of war and the fight for democracy.  

Bataan is my birthplace and remains dear to my heart. Although I have been away for a few decades, I keep abreast of the potential threats to its security and stability. BNPP’s construction began when I was in grade school, and most people in Bataan were not even aware of it until cause-oriented groups  outside of Bataan and the local informal leaders bravely protested against its operation in a militarized,  political climate. Now, it’s an issue that has resurfaced, and it will test how democracy is manifested and mediated in local and national settings, and how crucial decisions and trade-offs will be made regarding  safety, equity, and sustainable development. 

Each year, the government allocates more than $1 million for the BNPP’s upkeep and maintenance. It remains a losing and wasteful investment that does not give back. It is important that a decision is made about the white elephant as delays in the decision come with opportunity costs.  

The plant, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, was designed to provide 620 megawatts of electricity, and was completed in 1984 in response to the oil crisis in the ’70s – but has never produced any single watt of electricity due to a combination of factors. The biggest of these factors are safety concerns. 

The administration of Aquino and Ramos had ordered it mothballed in spite of its extremely high costs     based on the findings from the technical audit conducted by the National Union of Scientists (NUS) in 1986, 1988, and 1990, citing over 4,000 technical defects concerning cover design, construction, quality assurance, workmanship, etc.

The plant is located near to not one but four volcanoes, in an area prone to earthquakes. Fear and uncertainty about the location, and the wake of the Three Mile Island accident in the US in 1979, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and the more recent 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster restrained efforts to revive it.

As the Philippines seeks to retire its coal plants to meet its pledge and climate goals, as the impact of climate change around the globe, especially among the most vulnerable island countries, intensifies, and as demand for electricity increases, the discussions and debates whether to revive the BNPP or not, or whether to repurpose it, continues.  

Nuclear energy is depicted as “cleaner” than coal, and Bataan’s power plants that send electricity to the Luzon grid rely heavily on fossil fuel. As of November 30, 2022, the total capacity of existing power plants in Bataan equals 3,676.7 MW. Renewable energy accounts only for 92.4 MW while fossil fuel-fired plants account for 3,528 MW. More solar and wind farms are slated for construction and operation by 2026, which will increase the output to 4,920.7 MW.

The question remains: should Bataan go nuclear? There are a number of potential advantages for reviving the BNPP. It could provide continuous power generation around the clock. It supposedly has lower greenhouse gas emissions than coal and oil. It can supposedly decrease dependence on imported oil and coal by supplying a significant amount of electricity, and the plant is already constructed. 

However, there are compelling dangers or risks as well: the plant is nearly 40 years old and would need  substantial rehabilitation that require further spending. Rigorous safety protocols are imperative to ensure safety, as it is sitting on earthquake-prone area. It generates radioactive waste, and the disposal of waste is expensive, as well as poses potential environmental risks. The cost of repair, maintenance,  and operation might be higher than if the government were to build and operate renewable sources of energy. In 2017, a South Korean firm estimated that rehabilitation and upgrade of BNPP would be up to $1.19 billion.

Must Read

[OPINION] The long-term future of nuclear wastes

[OPINION] The long-term future of nuclear wastes

Essential in a democratic society is the education of its people. It is important for the local government and NGOs concerned about the environment, climate, and sustainable development to organize the communities and conduct education on different sources of energy, and their feasibilities, costs, and benefits. The disinformation and misinformation on social media is a threat to informed decision-making.  

The residents of Bataan must always be included in decision-making on the path to development, as they are the ones who directly suffer from the consequences of bad economic and environmental policies. Moreover, Bataan is already disproportionally carrying the heavy burden of supplying energy to Luzon. It will be unequitable to force it to host an old nuclear plant that faces considerable uncertainties. 

Whatever Bataan decides, the following questions loom: Would the national government respect its decision and local autonomy? Would it allow Bataan the right to self-determination? If Bataan were to demand the national government to fund the rapid expansion of renewable sources of energy and repurpose BNPP, would the current president support it or would he follow the path of his father? –

Lolita Castillo is an MPA ‘24 fellow of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!