Transformation from a free two-year study into a P100-million ten-month study highly suspicious

MANILA, Philippines – As Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco successfully brought his pet bill calling for the “immediate rehabilitation and commissioning” of the controversial Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) at the House plenary Wednesday night, the Freedom from Debt Coalition said the sponsorship speech was as faulty as the bill itself.

 “Like his bill, Cojuangco’s speech was poorly thought out and poorly conceived,” said FDC vice president Etta Rosales.

“It was the same speech he’s been giving for months, with the same faulty assumptions that have been repeatedly debunked in one public forum after another, often with him in the room,” the former party-list representative added.  

Cojuangco’s speech was delivered, however, without the usual interpellation that would have subjected House Bill 6300, a consolidated bill, to public scrutiny.  This is postponed until after Congress reconvenes in July.  

Cojuangco first tried to give his speech on Monday, but Bataan Rep. Albert Garcia noted that the BNPP bill had not yet been properly reviewed by the House Energy Committee.  It was sent back to the committee.  

After appealing the decision to send the bill back to committee, Cojuangco made a comeback on Wednesday, the last evening of this congressional session.  He argued that nuclear power was the most economical and safest energy option available to the Philippines and accused “Greenpeace and other like-minded groups” of “fear-mongering” with respect to nuclear power.  He even went so far as to say that eating a banana would expose one to more radiation than standing in front of a nuclear power plant for a year.

Faulty assumptions, high cost

“There are too many faulty assumptions in this speech to count,” FDC’s Rosales said.  FDC is one of the lead organizations of the Network Opposed to BNPP (NO to BNPP).  “For one, the contraction of our economy suggests decreasing energy demand.  As for cost, spending billions of dollars on upgrading and refurbishing an aging nuclear plant, importing uranium fuel, and hiring an army of foreign technicians to rehabilitate, commission, and operate it are not the things our economy needs right now,” she added.

BNPP was mothballed in 1986 over concerns for health and safety.  The plant was built in an earthquake zone on the slope of a volcano in Morong, Bataan.  The plant was never operated.  It was built at a cost of $2.3 billion, not counting debt service.  

In addition to the high economic cost, NO to BNPP stated in its critique of HB 6300 that concerns about the plant’s structural safety, location in a geologically active area, and the security and health risks involved with the transport of uranium and spent fuel make BNPP an unviable option for the Philippines.

“As in all of his previous speeches, in the bill itself, and in the Explanatory Note accompanying it, Cojuangco has failed to address these concerns in a meaningful way,” Rosales said.

Feasibility study

FDC and NO to BNPP said they will continue to refute Cojuangco’s speech in the period leading up to the next session of congress starting July 27.  

They maintained, however, that before Congress can have an informed discussion of BNPP, there must be an independent feasibility study focusing on environment, health and safety, and costs.  This appears in the consolidated HB 6300, but is buried deep in the bill.  It is the only section of the bill which includes a specific appropriation, for P100 million.  No financial costs are listed elsewhere in the bill, leading NO to BNPP to argue that congress members are being asked to vote on a “high risk project with uncertain costs.”

“That’s really the only part of the bill that Congress can discuss,” Rosales reiterated, “the rest of it is irrelevant.”

The urgency of a feasibility study is affirmed by Philippine Greens activist Engineer Roberto Verzola.

Conflict of interest

"To estimate rehabilitation costs accurately, a feasibility study on BNPP rehabilitation should take into account the findings of earlier technical audits of the BNPP, such as the $9.5-million NES study conducted in 1990, and which so far, remains unavailable to the public. To avoid conflict of interest, the feasibility study should also be undertaken by an independent body or firm having no direct interest in bidding for the rehabilitation project.  Finally, civil society groups should be involved in the conduct of the study, to assure the public of proper oversight by concerned citizens," he stressed.

Verzola clarified that if Korea Electric Power Corp. (Kepco) is being considered as a bidder for the rehabilitation project, it should be disqualified from conducting the feasibility study.  Late last month, the National Power Corporation said a Kepco team began prefeasibility studies of the power plant in January. Napocor had allotted P100 million for the feasibility study on the revival of BNPP, and the report is expected to be finished by October.

From free to $100M

Verzola also questioned the allocation of P100 million for the conduct of feasibility where in fact it was announced in January that it was a two-year pre-feasibility study funded solely by Kepco.

“After the bill was amended to require feasibility first, the Kepco study magically turned into a ten-month full-blown feasibility study and a P100-million windfall for Kepco, at Napocor’s expense. This metamorphosis from a free two-year study into a P100-million ten-month study is highly suspicious,” Verzola said.

Losing steam

There is in fact diminishing interest in the bill, Rosales said.

Co-authored with Rep. Mikey Macapagal-Arroyo (2nd District Pampanga, Lakas-CMD), the bill carried 185 additional co-authors in the original version.  This is down to 125 in the current consolidated bill.  

In addition to the loss of 60 co-authors, there are other indications that the bill is losing steam.  Department of Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes remarked to the media last month that it would take 15 years to build up the technical capacity to operate the plant, and that rehabilitating it would also need the support of all stakeholders, something it does not currently enjoy.  In March, the Bataan Provincial Board passed a resolution unanimously rejecting rehabilitation. -30-

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