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Manila’s nuclear about face

HONG KONG (SE): The on-again off-again president of The Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, was given big cookie points on November 8 when he scotched the idea of powering up the mothballed nuclear power plant in Bataan and assured the nation that during his term of office nuclear power plants would not operate.

The local bishop in the area, Bishop Rupert Santos, said that he welcomed the decision, describing it as an expression of Duterte’s concern and care for the people and the environment.

However, the party was destined to last less than a week, as on November 14 the secretary for energy, Alfonso Cusi, announced that the unpredictable president had undergone a total about face and, for unspecified reasons, given the green light to fire up the ghostly monument to the Marcos regime and the huge debt it piled on the people’s heads.

In eating his words of praise, Bishop Santos was circumspect. “If it really is from the president, we are saddened and disappointed,” CBCP News quoted him as saying.

Cusi explained that Duterte instructed him to commission a study, the focus of which should be primarily on safety and security.

The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was a disaster from the word go. Begun in 1976, it took 10 years and around US$2.2 billion ($17.5 billion) to get to the point of abandonment, after the Chernobyl disaster put the wind up the administration of Cory Aquino on 26 April 1986.

The shell had been completed and the plant always maintained, but never fuelled, mostly due to local resistance.

In 2011, the government paid the National Power Corporation a further US$96 million ($744 million) for maintenance and the annual bill since then has been US$6 million ($46.6 million) for a project that has done little other than upset the fishing in the area.

At the time of its commissioning, The Philippines was blessed with another know-it-all president, Ferdinand Marcos, who overruled everyone and signed a contract with Westinghouse, even though its quotation of US$500 million ($3.8 billion) lacked any specifications.

As the work continued to stagger, the price continued to shoot up, eventually costing over four times its original estimate.

It was later learned that Marcos had fallen for the old three-card trick, as the company sold the same technology to other countries at less than half the price.

In addition, local people used to point to the number of barangays in the area that had concrete basketball courts, a rarity in 1986, as every time a load of concrete destined for the reactor was checked, it was rejected as inferior.

But on most days it was never checked and apart from being built on unstable land, the plant is known to be sub-standard in its construction.

Bishop Santos agrees, saying, “The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is dangerous and will bring death and destruction like an active volcano.”

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