(Revised and updated, first published in November 2007)
In response with the looming nationwide energy crisis, the Philippine Government, under the Benigno Aquino III’s administration, is once again considering the idea of constructing another nuclear power plant somewhere in the country. Aside from the reason of securing adequate supply of energy, it is also due to provide cheaper alternative source of power compared to the conventional, fossil-fuel-burning source.
Why should we be concerned?
During the 2004 national election, re-election candidate Senator Juan Ponce Enrile stressed out that electric consumers are paying extra charges for the produced surplus power and even for non-operating independent power producers (indicated in the Meralco bill then as “Power Purchase Adjustments”). It was discovered that many privately owned power plants were generating but continuously earning from “energy sales”. The excess of power producers over the needed output was a result of former President Fidel V. Ramos’s measures to secure adequate energy supply.
The research and construction for another nuclear power plant would cost billions worth of taxes collected from every Filipino citizen. It is therefore imperative that people know how public funds would be used for such project; or better still if it is worth the investment. This nuclear ambition might lessen our oil dependency and might cheapen the energy. Or might do the otherwise.
Looking back in 1974, late president Ferdinand Marcos decided to push the go signal to construct a nuclear power plant in Bataan. The move was an attempt to reduce heavy oil dependency on power generation as by then the oil price started soaring high, and to resort to much cheaper alternative. Contracting the company Westinghouse for the construction of the plant, the Government of the Philippines incurred debt of a staggering contract price of US$2.3 billion.
Upon the completion of its construction, after being discovered it has numerous defects and was welcomed by massive pro-environmental protests, the Bataan Nuclear Power plant was mothballed. Aside from this, Westinghouse was investigated for alleged overpricing and bribing government officials to win the bid for the project. However, the company never got it into court. Westinghouse got the guarantees of being paid and worse, the Bataan NPP never produced a single watt for public consumption. For thirty years, the Filipino people paid paid for something of no benefit for them. The debt plus interest was paid off completely in April of 2007.
Also, factors regarding environment and health hazards have prevented the plant’s operation. The fact that the Philippines lies along the Pacific Ring of Fire makes the country prone to earthquakes. A nuclear power plant needs to situated on a very stable area. Tremors on the ground might otherwise compromise the concrete pressure vessel that houses the reactor, thus releasing radioactive contaminants into the air.
Advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power
As mentioned, nuclear energy is relatively cheap compared to that derived from conventional oil or coal-fired plants. Uranium, a nuclear fuel, can yield power several million times higher as of those of conventional sources. It was also once dubbed as an “infinite artificial energy source”. A single reactor could produce several hundreds of megawatts of power. Nuclear fuels, unlike fossil fuels, don’t get easily depleted, though rare by contrast. And unlike other energy sources, e.g. geothermal, hydroelectric dams, and wind, nuclear fuels are more mobile and controllable. At 100% efficiency, though it is unlikely to achieve this rate, a single kilogram of uranium fuel can produce as much electricity as almost 20 tons of coal fuel could.
However, environmentalists are raising questions over the use of nuclear power. Although a nuclear power plant releases far less greenhouse gases, radioactive by-products are created and emitted by fission reaction. Another issue is on how to dispose radioactive wastes derived from materials used in the reactor. In fact, some countries in Europe such as Germany are already seriously considering phasing out nuclear energy as power source in the not-so-distant future, and to resort to other safer alternatives. And it was even rumored that aside from Zambales, the Americans were secretly dumping their nuclear wastes in the Philippine Deep during the time they still has their naval base in Subic.
Safety is another issue to be considered. With the memories of Chernobyl accident in April 26, 1986, in Ukraine, where its reactor exploded, causing radioactive fallout in wide area, and then yet again the incident of almost meltdown of Fukushima nuclear power plant, one can easily sympathize most people’s condemnation against the use of nuclear energy for commercial purposes.
Solar Power. There is a real infinite source of power where a nuclear reaction naturally and constantly takes place – our own Sun, that is. Solar radiation can be captured and magnified by concave mirrors to produce steam to turn turbines for electricity production. Or solar radiation can be chemically turned into electric current by means of photovoltaic or solar cells. However, a plant of this type could be very costly.
Wind Power. Instead of using thermal energy for power production, the force of the wind can turn the sails of the wind turbines for generation. An array of giant windmills along the shorelines of Bangui, Ilocos Norte, is already in operation. No greenhouse gas emissions and, at least for some, they are cute and quite a landmark to behold.
On the bright side, having back nuclear technology of this scale in the country could boost the morale of young Filipino minds to gain more interest in physical science.
My product photography debut. Simple and easy way of taking pictures of your products. You don’t have to be a professional photographer to take a good shot. It’s all in the lighting, and a good camera.
Original Dimension: 3240 x 4320 px
Shutter speed: 1.6 seconds
ISO speed: ISO-100
Lighting: Yellow incandescent lamp, white LED, white flourescent
Size reassignment: cut by 75%
Color balance: Cyan: +40, Magenta: 0, Yellow: -20
Channel adjustments: Red contrast: +30, Green contrast: +10, Blue contrast: 0