Changing the nuke narratives

COMMONSENSE - Marichu Villanueva - The Philippine Star

For almost four decades since the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP) was shuttered in the aftermath of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, the narratives on the country’s aborted attempt to generate 620-megawatts (MW) of electricity out of it have not changed. The concerns on how safe to run the reactor and how the radioactive wastes will be disposed are the primordial concerns against the BNPP. But what sealed the fate of the BNPP were the alleged over-pricing and corruption that went into the construction of the facility.

Before, during, and after the construction of the BNPP was beset with a lot of controversies. It was the namesake of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM), the late former president Ferdinand Sr., who initiated the country’s bid to build its own nuclear-run electricity plant. It was in the 1970’s when the Philippines and the whole world were reeling from the oil price crisis spawned by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), pejoratively called as the cartel of crude-oil producing countries.

The well-intentioned shift to nuclear energy got embroiled in accusations of pay-offs to the late dictator supposedly from the reactor-vendor Westinghouse Electric Co. of the United States. The State-run National Power Corp. (NPC) was the party in contract for the BNPP. Following the shutdown of the $2.3-billion project, the NPC carried the repayment for the BNPP loans and passed on to us Filipino consumers through stranded costs included in our monthly electric bills.

Up to now, Pangasinan Rep. Mark Cojuangco deplored the same narratives hound the country’s nuclear facility that got mothballed during the administration of the late president Corazon Aquino months after Marcos was ousted out of Malacañang Palace and she took over the government. A nephew from the paternal side of Mrs. Aquino, Rep. Cojuangco has not wavered in his advocacy to revive the BNPP that he swears remain intact and ready for use.

Cojuangco pushed for the BNPP revival during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum. His sentiments were shared by Dr. Cecilio K. Pedro, president of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCII) and Gayle Certeza, lead convenor of Alpas Pinas advocating for use of nuclear energy.

Speaking for the Chinoy business and industry community in the Philippines, the FFCCII president called upon for the PBBM administration officials and lawmakers from the 19th Congress “to get acts together” to bring in nuclear energy in the electricity generation mix of the Department of Energy (DOE). Pedro believes local investors like them would be willing to bankroll the construction of new nuclear power plant as the immediate solution in bringing down the high cost of power that has been crippling the Philippine economy.

Pedro, who runs his own toothpaste company “Happee,” sees no need for Charter change (Cha-cha) if the government is able to bring down the cost of power, provide a reliable source of electricity and ease of doing business in the Philippines is put in place.

As a public relations and advertising practitioner, Certeza seeks the help of the Philippine media in “reframing the nuclear issues to the latest safe technology in the running of 400 nuclear power plants being used in small countries like Bangladesh to the biggest and richest like Japan, the US, Canada, Germany, Russia etc. She has presented new narratives and communications campaign of Alpas Pinas to counter years of the BNPP being “demonized” by its arch critics and opponents.

Unperturbed by the nuclear controversies, Rep. Cojuangco first took the initiative to revive the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant-1 (PNPP-1) – which he cited is the real name of the BNPP – when he first became a lawmaker during the 14th Congress. More than 21 years after the PNPP-1 got mothballed, Cojuangco first filed House Bill (HB) 4631 in 2007 but it failed to get through the legislative mills.

His wife, Congresswoman Kimi Cojuangco refiled his bill and got 200 House members to co-author it. But still, it did not see the light of day. Despite being out of public office, Cojuangco continued with his advocacy to press the use of nuclear energy in the Philippines. In his private capacity, according to him, he spent his own money to finance further studies on development of safe use of nuclear energy.

Back in politics, Rep. Cojuangco has, in fact, authored and sponsored the passage of needed legislations that address these persistent narratives founded on fears, doubts and suspicions. He maintains that nuclear-powered electricity is cheaper, cleaner, safer to the health of the people and more reliable source of energy than using fossil fuels and renewable energy (RE) to generate electricity.

Supposedly the BNPP was situated in an earthquake-prone site in Morong, Cojuangco argued, this has never been proven by any science. But to directly address these “bogus safety issues,” Cojuangco disclosed several Senate and House Bills now in various advanced stages of the legislative mills in the 19th Congress.

As the chairman of the House Special Committee on Nuclear Energy of the 19th Congress, Rep. Cojuangco shepherded the approval of HB 9293 and 9876.

The Philippine National Energy Safety Act under HB 9293 was approved on third and final reading in November last year with 200 fellow House members voting for it. Only seven voted “No,” with two abstentions. The latest to be approved on third and final reading just last March 4 was the Nuclear Liability bill under HB 9876 that got 267 votes in favor, with only six “No” votes and one abstention.

These House-approved HB 9293 and 9876 have been transmitted for consolidation with its counterpart Senate Bills (SB) now being deliberated by the Senate committee on science and technology chaired by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano. Undergoing the technical working group of Cayetano’s committee is SB 1194, seeking to create the Philippine Atomic Regulatory Act and SB 2545, or the Philippine Nuclear Liability Act, all filed in August 2022 by Sen. Francis Tolentino.

Now 66 years old, Congressman Cojuangco has taken upon himself of changing the narratives from the “hangover against the Marcos regime” and the “push back” from its critics.

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