|Fig. 1: Bataan nuclear power plant. (Source: Wikimedia Commons )|
In response to the 1973 Oil Crisis, the Philippine government, headed by Ferdinand Marcos, moved to make the country more energy self-sufficient. Part of the administration's vision was a 2.2 billion dollar nuclear power plant located on a peninsula to the west of Manila, the capital city. The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP - Fig 1) would have been the first nuclear station in Southeast Asia. However, from the bidding process to the plants completion in 1984, the project was fraught with controversies and delays.  Amid highly publicized and highly destructive nuclear events like the Three Mile Accident and the Chernobyl Disaster, allegations of corporate misdoing and a drastic regime change, the plant fell into disrepair.  Today it still stands, but yet it has never generated a single watt of energy.
In 2018, the Philippines continues to grow at an extraordinary rate, not only in terms of its economy but also in terms of its population. In order to maintain this trajectory, the energy sector must adapt before it becomes an obstacle to national development. In terms of energy, the Philippines currently has three main problems. Firstly, not enough electricity is being supplied to the country - more than 2 million households across the nation have no form of electricity.  Secondly, the cost of energy in the country remains sky-high. In 2014, for instance, the Philippines had the 5th highest cost of electricity in the world at 24 cents per kilowatt hour.  The third problem is the countrys reliance on dirty energy from overseas. Most of the countrys energy supply is provided by coal and most of the coal used is imported - 20.79 million tons in 2016 alone.  With renewable energy failing to rectify these issues, it might be wise for the Philippines to revive its nuclear ambitions.
A nuclear energy station will help the Philippines solve those three problems. A nuclear power plant can deliver high amounts of power much more efficiently than any fossil fuel. Though the initial investment is high, the cost to maintain a nuclear facility tends to be lower than that of a coal facility. For comparison, 6 grams of nuclear fuel yields the same amount of energy as 1 metric tonne of coal.  Also, nuclear power plants do not produce copious amounts of greenhouse gases. Radioactive waste does need to be managed, but at this point in time, it seems like a less dangerous byproduct than those produced by fossil fuel combustion.
>If nuclear energy is the key to the Philippines future then should the BNPP be part of the plan? The main question that needs to be answered is the one regarding safety. Indeed, the debate regarding the plant in recent years has centered around the locations earthquake proneness. The current administration has shot down any plans to revive the plant after discovering that the facility was on top of a major fault line. Nevertheless, proponents of the BNPP believe that these fault lines are irrelevant because the BNPP was built to withstand a magnitude 8.0 earthquake. By comparison, the Fukushima plant was built to withstand a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, which it did before succumbing to the inundation brought about by the resulting tsunami. Aside from fault lines, the station is under threat from other factors. The facility actually lies very close to two dormant volcanoes and one active volcano that all have a chance of erupting. Simulations show that the lahar, tephra fallout and magma from any of these volcanoes could damage the BNPP.  However, during Mount Pinatubos devastating eruption in 1991 - the second largest eruption of the 20th century - the BNPP was hardly scathed. This seems to suggest that the threat posed by these volcanoes is not so severe.
Aside from safety, the economics of the refurbishment need to be considered as well. The plant has fallen into disrepair and some of the equipment installed has since become outdated. Estimates put the total cost of making the BNPP operational again at 1 billion dollars. While this is a significant outlay, the 650 MW output the BNPP can provide is enough to cover a significant percentage of the country's peak energy demand. Aside from additional energy supplied, the BNPP also allows the government to be less reliant on imported energy sources which will likely save the country millions every year. It is generally agreed that in the long run, the BNPP will pay for itself many times over.
A full-scale geological survey and cost-benefit analysis will need to be conducted to definitively assess the safety and value of reopening the BNPP.
© Miguel Ayala. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
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