Greenpeace Southeast Asia

In response to Rey Vincent’s Op-Ed by Chuck Baclagon

In light of the recent moves in Congress to operationalize the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant – there seems to be an abundance of so-called nukes experts here in the Philippines.

A certain Rey Vincent P.E., wrote a letter-to-the-editor to the Philippine Daily Inquirer (dated March 25, 2009) with a title that reads: Now is the the best time for nuclear power.

Here’s my 10 cents worth on his letter…

On climate change

How convenient it is to talk about global warming when pushing for nukes?

Very easy.

However talk is cheap. Nuclear energy has not suddenly become safe or clean, in much the same way that coal is not safe even if its clean coal. Its all just ‘greenwash’.

In speaking of nuclear safety versus global warming, he makes it seem that we have no choice but to choose between radiation contamination over catastrophic climate change. Such must not be the case because climate change and pollution are both unacceptable.

Another thing that he touched is on the issue of renewable energy where he fondly writes:

“ Wind and solar energy are not yet commercially competitive and can only generate power in limited quantities.”

Here’s my take – first he needs to qualify his statement is he merely talking about wind and solar or is he addressing renewable energy (RE) as a whole, for starters the above mentioned RE sources is not representative of the entire RE makeup of the Philippines as our RE energy portfolio includes wind, biomass, photovoltaic, solar thermal, geothermal, ocean and hydroelectric power. These sources of energy are abundant in our country and, compared to conventional fuels, are free. The Philippines’ potential for renewable energy sources are vast and much, much greater than what fossil fuels or nuclear can provide.

The Greenpeace report ‘Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable Philippine Energy Outlook,’ draws up a comprehensive energy strategy for the Philippines to show how renewable energy can become the country’s energy backbone. The report show how renewable energy can provide as much as 57% of the country’s energy needs by 2030, and 70% by 2050, with ‘new’ renewables, such as wind, biomass, geothermal and solar energy, contributing as much as 58% to the energy mix.

In fact, that is one of the reasons why the Renewable Energy Bill has finally been signed into a law last year, so to speak of nukes in an age of RE is distracting. Because as the way things are talks ought to be focused now on pushing for an uptake in RE instead of pushing for nukes.

You can’t solve a problem by creating another problem. To propose nuclear expansion in the name of climate change is stacking one potential catastrophe over another. Not only does it seem outrageous to dig up mistakes from the past, it is would be a complete waste of money that is much better spent on further development of the country’s plentiful renewable energy sources—the real solutions to climate change.

On safety

In writing about the safety of nuclear power plants he cites the Japanese nuclear industry as a good example and argument against the issue of geological hazards that plague the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. But is that really true?

One needs not to go back far in tracing Japan’s poor record of safety with regards to nuclear reactors. In 1991, a fatal accident has killed at least four people at the Mihama nuclear power plant in Japan. There was no leak of radioactivity but it is the deadliest accident in a catalog of nuclear scandals in Japan.

Seven workers were also injured due to the steam leak, possibly caused by a lack of cooling water in the reactor. This latest accident follows the explosion at Tokaimura plant in 1999, where workers mixed radioactive material in a bucket, causing a reaction that killed two workers, injured several more and irradiated hundreds of civilians. In 1997 also at Tokaimura a fire and explosion released radioactive gas into the atmosphere. In 1995 a serious accident at the Monju fast breeder reactor led to its shut down. In 1991 another reactor at the same Mihama plant suffered a serious radioactive leak.

Time and time again the industry has demonstrated that safety and nuclear power is a contradiction in terms.

On theology and science

He writes: “It is a waste of time to wait for scientists and theologians to agree.”

I say: one doesn’t need to wait for scientists and theologians to agree on the issue of nukes. Because scientists and theologians do agree. The Catholic Bishops Conference stands on the same anti-BNPP ground as that of the geologist Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo of the University of the Philippines’ National Institute of Geological Sciences; the scientists from the successive review panels that have been commissioned by the previous administrations. Perhaps its not about theologians and scientists agreeing but an issue of people using scientific argument only for the purpose of convenience.

Concluding thoughts

Personally I do not only see this as an environmental issue but also a justice issue the BNPP incurred a monster loan of US$ 2.3 billion and some US$ 640 million worth of interest payments, from an initial estimated cost of US$600 million in 1975. That the BNPP has yet to produce a single megawatt of power makes its debt fraudulent, wasteful, and useless. While the government’s accounting books have already cleared the original BNPP debt, these methods of repayment have yet to be examined and successor loans of the BNPP have yet to be identified.

The bill has already indicated that US$ 1 billion is to be raised either by charging consumers an additional 10 centavos surcharge in electricity generation, or by incurring more debts. This is less of a choice than a matter of enslavement – that the people will have to pay either way because the priority of government has always been debt service over social welfare.

Lastly, when all has been said and done there is a human cost to nukes especially in the incidence of a nuclear disaster. The Chernobyl disaster is a grim reminder of the tragic cost of nukes on the lives of people – a cost that they are paying until today.

As I end this response to  Rey Vincent – I remember the account of one of our campaigners when the chief proponent for the BNPP Congressman Mark Cojuangco made a comment that only 60 people died in the Chernobyl catastrophe a comment that caught the ire of a shocked nun who questioned the value that the chief BNPP proponent puts on life.

“Only 60 people died!” she said in shock.

Ultimately, nuclear power is not just about technology or economics, but about what kind of future we want for ourselves and for our children. What kind of future do you want?

Chuck Baclagon

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