DOST says ‘fake news’ led Cory to ditch BNPP in 1986

By Edd K. Usman

Nothing but “fake news” prompted then President Corazon C. Aquino to abandon the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) in Morong, Bataan in 1986.

DOST-PNRI director Carlo A. Arcilla bats for nuclear power in the Philippines for its uses in medicine, food and agriculture, and freeing of Filipinos from prohibitive cost of electricity

DOST-PNRI director Carlo A. Arcilla 

Dr. Carlo A. Arcilla, a geologist and now director of PNRI, said advisers fed Mrs. Aquino with the wrong information that there was a nearby “volcano” and an “earthquake fault” underneath the BNPP.

Arcilla made the assertion during the opening of the 45th Atomic Energy Week (AEW) on Dec. 4 to 7 at the PNRI headquarters in Quezon City.

He said the first fake news on the BNPP was that it is near a volcano (Mount Natib in Orani, Bataan). The second fake news is that the plant is sitting on a land with an earthquake fault. “These two reasons are both fake news. That was really painful,” he said.

Arcilla said that Laguna de Bay is also a volcano with at least two craters, which erupted over 20,000 years ago, and is much younger than Mount Natib. “Are you afraid of Laguna de Bay? I’m sure you did not even know it’s a volcano,” the PNRI chief said.

Arcilla cited the study conducted by geologist and scientist Dr. Alfredo “Mahar” Lagmay, which found that no earthquake fault line directly runs through the land where the BNPP is located.

In 1975, the government of former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos paid $2.3 billion to US firm Westinghouse to build the 620-megawatt BNPP in a 377-hectare government property in Bataan.

The BNPP was supposed to operate starting in late 1985, but the Edsa People Power Revolution toppled Marcos and catapulted Aquino to the presidency.

On April 30, 1986, Aquino ordered the abandonment of the BNPP, citing safety concerns after apparently consulting her advisers about the volcano and the earthquake fault line, and so-called irregularities in its construction.

Meanwhile, in 2007, the government was able to fully pay the BNPP builders in the amount of P64.7 billion (P43.4 billion for principal amortization and P21.2 billion as interest) without the plant producing a single watt of nuclear energy.

Aquino’s abandonment of the BNPP came just four days after the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, then part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR or Soviet Union).

Arcilla said the Chernobyl disaster occurred because it had no containment structure design, unlike most nuclear power plants in Western Europe.

In the most recent nuclear accident, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, Arcilla said the plant’s parts had not sustained damage even with the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that hit the country on March 11, 2011, saying it was the cooling system in the basement that was flooded by tsunami waters and damaged its electrical lines.

The Fukushima accident won’t happen with the BNPP, he assured, because the elevation of the latter is higher than the highest tsunami level.

On earthquakes, the PNRI director said the BNPP was built stronger than 0.4G shield and can cope with the crash of a 747 airplane.

What erupted in Fukushima was hydrogen, not nuclear, he said. Its cooling system failed because its electrical installations were water-damaged, he added.

He said because of what happened at Fukushima, power plants across the world have learned their lesson and have now put in place measures for stronger electrical power systems, even installing a second system outside the plants.

A former head of the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Geological Sciences (UP-NIGS), Arcilla said he will fight hard for nuclear energy in the country.

Nuclear power is not all about bombs, he said. It is used in medicine (diagnostic of cancer), extending food shelf life, increasing rice production without fertilizers through irradiation, and considerably slicing power costs for homes and industries through nuclear energy.

“Nuclear energy is not only a weapon for mass destruction, it is actually a very important tool for uplifting humanity,” said Arcilla. “For too long, our country has suffered under policies that are not guided by science. It is time to change that.”

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