You could have been reading the alarming headline of this very article in the aftermath of the recent Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 10,000 people and displaced over 600,000 in the Phillipines this last week.
Super Typhoon Haiyan was one of the largest CAT-5 storms in recorded history, with wind gusts topping 235 mph.
Thankfully, you did not read about a nuclear meltdown in the Philippines last week, and it is not because there isn’t a nuclear plant in the country.
The Nuclear Plant that could have melted down last week…
Surprisingly, a nuclear power plant has been in the Phillipines for over 30 years with a history steeped in the fragile – and highly calamitous – nuclear power industry of the last several decades.
The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) is a Phillipine nuclear facility constructed under President Ferdinand Marcos in the late 1970s, just a few hundred miles from the eye of Super Typhoon Haiyan that just devastated the country.
So why during the Super Typhoon last week was there not a nuclear disaster of the kind we saw at Fukushima in Japan? Why did we not see a disaster in which a power outage of over a mere 8 hours would have disrupted the cooling of the reactor cores and spent fuel pools leading to overheating, nuclear chain reactions and deadly explosions at the Philippines Bataan NPP?
And why did this disaster not lead to the complete evacuation and loss of the capital city, Manila, home to 1.6 million people?
Catastrophe was averted because rational thinking, public outcry, and wise political leadership succeeded where it has obviously failed in cases like Fukushima.
In other words, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was not ever made operational. But it has come very close – too close – to becoming operational.
Six reasons why Bataan NPP is not operational, saving countless millions of lives
Reason #1: Three Mile Island. You may remember the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the U.S., which scared the pants off everyone in and out of the nuclear industry. It was the worst nuclear power plant disaster in U.S. history, and a major buzz kill to the startup of not just the BNPP, but nuclear power plants worldwide.
Reason #2: Earthquakes. Next was the recognition that the BNPP was situated on active earthquake fault lines that could destroy it – the sort of information one would have thought could have prevented the Fukushima Power Plant from being created (but science and technology in the hands of shortsighted industrialists and economists won and lost – the day… and perhaps much of Japan).
Reason #3: Volcanoes. The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was also built near by Mount Pinatubo – a major volcano that in 1991 produced the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. It is also near inactive volcano Mt. Natib. “Volcanic eruption” and “nuclear power plant” were not words anyone in the Philippines wanted to hear in the same sentence on a news report.
Reason #4: Technical Faults: A safety inquiry into the plant revealed over 4,000 defects.
Reason #5: Chernobyl. Finally, there was the 1986 Chernobyl accident that almost radiated much of Europe to the point of being uninhabitable. It was only thanks to the efforts of over 600,000 Russians acting quickly that this did not happen. Yes, six hundred thousand.
Reason #6: Wise Leadership. Philippine Presdient Corazon Aquino shut down the plant, supported by a surge of opposition from Bataan residents and Philippine citizens who took the lead in their communities.
To this day, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant remains intact and continuously maintained, despite the Philippines’ 30-year debt repayment on construction costs, making it one of the most costly projects in the country’s history (and of no use to anyone).
Fukushima and the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant: one disaster preventing another
You would think it wisely ended there. The construction costs were paid off and a disaster or disasters averted due to obvious human, ecological, technical, and political considerations.
But it would take time and the Fukushima nuclear accident in March of 2011 to wipe the BNPP off the table for good.
In May 2011, just weeks after the triple meltdown of Fukushima in Japan (the largest nuclear or industrial accident in history) Philippine Department of Tourism regional director Ronald Tiotuico announced the BNPP would be permanently mothballed and opened as a tourist attraction. In an interview with the Philippine Star, Tiotuico stated that tourists will get to see:
“… how nuclear energy throughout the world menacingly threatens the quality of life of the people if handled incorrectly… Hopefully, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant would serve to warn the global community of the fallout disaster that struck people in the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima [incidents].”
This sounds like a fine historical and educational end to a potential disaster, and a portent of things to come for the nuclear industry. Lessons learned, public educated and protected, disaster averted, and energies are redirected to more sane methods for power production in the Philippines.
Not so fast: the stupidity continues!
Just two short weeks before Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, a local paper reported:
“Senator Joseph Victor ‘JV’ Ejercito has expressed concern over the expected power shortage in the country by 2015… that is why he is pushing for the restoration of the Bataan nuclear power plant to help avert the country’s energy crisis.”
“Since then the facility has become a white elephant, costing the government millions of dollars for maintenance; so therefore, it is high time for the government to operate the plant,” he explained.
Since Senator Ejercito is making an economic plea for operation of the BNPP, perhaps he should ask the Japanese and Tokyo Electric Power Company about the estimated $150 billion to cleanup of the Fukushima disaster, set up by foolish nuclear ambitions and set off by understandable and predictable natural geological events.
Or he might ask his constituents what they would think of such an unfortunate outcome if the BNPP was to melt down due to earthquakes, a volcano eruption, or a super typhoon like they just experienced country-wide.
Economist E.F. Schumacher, author of Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, wrote in reference to nuclear contamination:
“Even an economist might well ask: what is the point of economic progress, a so-called higher standard of living, when the earth, the only earth we have, is being contaminated by substances which may cause malformations in our children or grandchildren?”
But Ejercito is not the only one in the Philippines with a nuclear vision. Pangasinan Rep. Mark O. Cojuangco, a fierce advocate of nuclear power, has argued for the restarting of the $2.2-billion BNPP — possibly at a cost of $1 billion — so it can contribute cheaper electricity to the country’s grid.
Finally, as of June 10, 2013, Philippine Kel Fabie at 8List created a propaganda website about still starting the Bataan facility.
Notice the *beautiful* photo of the Bataan plant below – it’s exterior condition alone does not inspire confidence.
One wonders what Kel thinks now about the prospects for the safety of reactors like Bataan after the recent Super Typhoon ravaged his beloved country?
There are saner heads, to be sure. For those acknowledging the whole truth of the BNPP, you can go to the Network Opposed to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.
The road ahead: what do you think?
Super Typhoon Haiyan that killed over 10,000 in the Philippines made landfall in northern Vietnam on November 11, uprooting trees and tearing roofs off homes while packing heavy rains and winds up to 120km/h.
Is Vietnam getting the message on the danger of nuclear power with the increase in superstorms such as Haiyan? The World Nuclear Association writes in “Nuclear Power in Vietnam” from September 2013 that proposals for up to eight sites are being considered up and down the storm-ridden coasts and provinces of Vietnam.
In reference to the pathologically destructive shortsightedness of nuclear energy, here is a powerful statement from E.F. Schumacher in “Nuclear Energy: Salvation or Damnation” in Small is Beautiful:
No degree of prosperity could justify the accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make ‘safe’ and which remain an incalculable danger to the whole of creation for historical or even geological ages. To do such a thing is a transgression against life itself, a transgression infinitely more serious than any crime ever perpetrated by man. The idea that a civilization could sustain itself on the basis of such a transgression is an ethical, spiritual, and metaphysical monstrosity. It means conducting the economic affairs of man as if people really did not matter at all.”
What do you think? Have you seen enough? Shouldn’t incidents like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima and the would-be disaster and meltdown at the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in the Philippines this last week spell the death knell for the nuclear industry?
Philippines storm kills estimated 10,000, destruction hampers rescue efforts
Network opposed to the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant
Bataan nuclear power plant: reopen it or not?
8 Questions About the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant Answered
JV Ejercito supports restoration of Bataan nuclear power plant
Philippine nuclear plant to become tourist attraction
The Three Mile Island Nuclear Accident