MANILA, Philippines—Proponents of nuclear power in the Philippines are reversing their position following partial meltdowns at two nuclear reactors in northeast Japan as a result of an 8.9-magnitude earthquake on Friday that spawned a massive tsunami.
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said he had favored nuclear energy before because of high power rates in the country and because he had believed that the risks of nuclear energy could be managed.
“But now, the sheer fact that our country is situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire like Japan has settled the debate in my mind—no more to nuke plant,” Salceda said.
Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez said the situation in Japan vindicated Catholic bishops in opposing repeated proposals either to revive the mothballed nuclear power plant in Morong, Bataan, or to develop a plant elsewhere.
“What is happening now in Japan confirmed our previous and present fears [about nuclear power plants],” Iñiguez said Sunday on the sidelines of the Church’s 25th celebration of National Migrants’ Day in Pasay City.
President Benigno Aquino III’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, ordered the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) project mothballed in 1986 due to safety issues and irregularities that attended its funding and construction.
Early last year, the Pangasinan provincial board endorsed a proposal by then Rep. Mark Cojuangco for the province to host two nuclear power plants.
In pushing for the building of a nuclear plant in the province, Cojuangco said it would push Pangasinan’s progress and lower its electricity rates.
Other nuclear power advocates made their voices heard last year after the country felt the initial symptoms of a power shortfall that could worsen in the next 50 years.
Former Sen. Manuel Roxas II, the Aquino administration’s “troubleshooter,” expressed interest in tapping nuclear power for the country when he was campaigning for vice president in the May 2010 elections.
Roxas said then that he would support studies on how the country could benefit from building a nuclear power plant and rehabilitating the BNPP.
But Iñiguez said government officials must closely follow the developments in Japan, where a nuclear plant operator in Fukushima Daiichi was scrambling to avert meltdowns in other reactors.
“They must study and intently follow what is going on with Japan’s nuclear plant now and consider what could happen if we have that kind of problem in our country,” he said.
Thousands of residents living near the nuclear plant have been evacuated after the cooling system of one of the reactors was damaged by the temblor that spawned a tsunami that wiped out towns and killed hundreds of people in Japan’s northeastern coast.
Rethink nuke proposal
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said the situation in Japan should force a rethinking of the nuclear proposal.
“While there is a need to address the issue of power supply, the safety considerations should be paramount and should not be compromised,” he said.
Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Benitez said the damage on the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant would serve as a strong argument against the activation of the BNPP.
Buhay party-list Rep. Irwin Tieng said the damage to the reactors had put into question the safety record of Japan’s nuclear plants.
“We have to decide what to do with the BNPP as soon as possible. Our inability to offer cheap electricity has kept investors away but safety remains a priority issue that must be addressed,” Tieng said.
Bagong Henerasyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy said the earthquake tragedy in Japan proved to be the strongest argument against attempts by some sectors to revive the BNPP.
Dy pointed that since the proponents of nuclear power had pointed to Japan as the model to prove the safety nuclear power, the explosion in one of its nuclear reactors showed that this assumption was false.
She said Congress should put on the back burner all proposals for the revival of the BNPP.
The House committee on energy is set to tackle a proposal by Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco, wife of Mark, to conduct a validation process that would determine whether the Philippines should go nuclear in its search for additional power supply.
Asked what Malacañang thought of proposals for the country to go nuclear, President Aquino’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, Sunday said it was better to look at proposals for alternative fuels that were “less controversial and with less opposition.”
No to BNPP
In the City of San Fernando in Pampanga, the Nuclear-Free Bataan Movement-Network (NFBM-Net) renewed calls to the President to reject proposals to revive the BNPP.
Lawyer Dante Ilaya, NFBM-Net chair, said the administration and proponents of the rehabilitation of the nuclear plant should learn from the disaster that struck Japan.
“The devastating earthquake in Japan should open our eyes to the reality that the Philippines is not a safe place for nuclear [power] plants,” Ilaya told the Inquirer by telephone.
Ilaya is one of the first antinuclear activists who resisted the project that began in Morong, Bataan, in the 1970s.
“Our country is often visited by earthquakes and we do not have the technology to prevent a nuclear disaster in case of a strong earthquake. Japan, despite being industrialized, turns out to be helpless against it,” he said in a statement.
In the same statement, Msgr. Antonio Dumaual, NFBM-Net co-chair, urged the government to go for clean energy from renewable sources, such as solar power.
Ilaya and Dumaual called on the government to dismantle the BNPP, to stop calls to rehabilitate and operate the facility and to address the power shortage in the country.
In July 2009, Kelvin Rodolfo, a Filipino-American geologist, drummed up support for a detailed hazard assessment by Mahar Lagmay and Fernando Siringan on Mt. Natib where the BNPP was closely built. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño