Marcos of the Philippines looks forward to reviving Elb nuclear plant amid clean energy push

The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ response to the oil crisis of the early 1970s. It was completed in 1984 but never commissioned. (Martin San Diego for The Washington Post) (For The Washington Post)

President Marcos views his father’s project, which has been plagued by scandal and safety concerns, as a solution to its fossil fuel challenges.


BATAN, Philippines – Growing Up Together, Nuclear Plant and its caretaker.

Willy Torres was there in the early 1970s, when the plant was still under construction, and a $2.3 billion project set to become Asia’s first nuclear project. He technically stayed on when scandal hit the plant. He remained as one of a handful of employees when, in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, the government ordered him to stop working.

In the face of skyrocketing energy prices and global pressure to slow climate change by moving away from fossil fuels, interest in nuclear power has rekindled in the Philippines and abroad. President Ferdinand “BongBong” Marcos Jr. made the announcement weeks after taking office last year “it’s time” To reconsider nuclear power and publicly musing about reviving the decades-old Bataan Nuclear Plant.

The plant was started in the mid-1970s by the president’s father, dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and was plagued by construction delays, cost overruns, and fees the Marcos family had received bribes from contractors. When an independent commission concluded that the factory “Inadequate safeguards and can be a potential dangerOpposition to the project grew. It was put on hold in 1986 and its reactor was never commissioned.

“It was a missed opportunity. Not just for me, but for the whole country,” Torres, 61, said.

The factory, nestled in forested hills three hours outside of Manila, has become a monument to the excesses of the Marcos era. Swallows moved into their cavernous chambers and their gurgling echoed against the concrete walls. For decades, Torres had hoped the plant would one day reopen, and now, under Marcos, it might. Activists who marched against the factory over alleged security holes are mobilizing their communities to fight again.

But the battlefield has changed.

How the Philippines’ brutal history is whitewashed for voters

The Philippines is the site of dozens of weather-related disasters each year, and is one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The energy sector is heavy with coal half of greenhouse gas emissions, which puts the nation under increasing pressure to find new sources of energy. In the country’s legislature and on the world stage, nuclear power has found influential champions who argue that it is the only energy source that will allow the Philippines to green its grid without having to slow growth.

Some energy experts aren’t so sure nuclear power makes sense for the Philippines, but their voices are increasingly muted. Rewriting the controversial history of the Bataan Nuclear Plant, Veronica Kabe, an organizer in the Bataan Nuclear/Coal-Free Movement, said on social media.

“We see him every day,” said Kaby. “They invert the narrative.”

Governments around the world are “rediscovering” the advantages of nuclear power, said Henry Bellaire, chief of planning at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Germany in October Extend the shelf life of the nuclear stations after pledging to phase them out. France is building new reactors even though its existing nuclear infrastructure is in tatters on the brink of collapse. Japan recently said that it would begin to “maximize” its atomic fleet It was Reducing After the Fukushima power plant disaster in 2011, when a powerful tsunami released radioactive materials.

“We can’t achieve a clean energy transition without nuclear,” Baeler said, noting that last year the International Atomic Energy Agency hosted its first booth at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. But this does not mean that every country needs nuclear energy.

Bailer said at least 30 countries, most of them emerging economies, are exploring how to add nuclear power to their energy mix. However, few are faced with a decision as urgent as that of the Philippines.

Filipinos pay among the highest rates for electricity in Asia, in large part because half of the country’s energy is obtained from imported coal, which is becoming increasingly expensive. Arquila, director of the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute, said that since energy needs will double over the next two decades, nuclear energy is the best alternative for the country because it can reliably supply a large amount of energy. On the other hand, solar and wind power are “intermittent” based on what nature provides.

But Sarah Jane Ahmed, an energy finance analyst who advises the Twenty Group, or V20, an alliance of countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, said nuclear plants are inflexible in their operation. It said it cannot accommodate fluctuations in energy needs caused by factors such as changes in the weather, nor can it be “rammed up and down” to work with renewable energy.

It is also costly to ensure that nuclear plants are operated safely in the Philippines, which, like Japan, is located in an active seismic zone known as the Ring of Fire. When nuclear plants stop working, for example because of a hurricane, the power grid can be left paralyzed, causing blackouts, said Bert Dalusong, an analyst at the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities. Instead of a few large power plants, he said, the Philippines needs a “distributed energy infrastructure” built on its abundant solar, wind and geothermal resources.

In a paper-packed office in Manila, white-bearded and weary, Arquila shook his head at these arguments. The director of the institute said he supports more renewable energy but it will not be enough on its own. He said the case against nuclear power is irrational, and has been shaped too much by the history of the Bataan plant.

“With ignorance,” added Arquila. “And politics.”

When Ferdinand Marcos Sr. decided to build the Bataan Nuclear Plant in 1973, the world was in the midst of an energy crisis triggered by the oil embargo in the Middle East. Marcos had just declared martial law, extending his rule beyond the constitutional limit and giving himself the sweeping powers he used to. plunder the country’s coffers. Eventually, a mass “people power” movement rose to overthrow Marcos, and when he fled the Philippines in 1986, his nuclear plant was left in limbo.

The subsequent government of President Corazon “Corey” Aquino was assessing what to do with it when a nuclear reactor exploded in a small Ukrainian town in the Soviet Union. Budget Minister Alberto Romulo: “If there is still any doubt about the cobwebs” to reporters At that time, “Chernobyl definitely sealed the fate of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.”

It took the Philippines until 2007 to finish paying for the facility. Since then, there have been fleeting attempts to restart discussions about the plant, but none – until now – have drawn such keen interest from the country’s leaders.

“This is the first solid opportunity we’ve had in decades,” said Mark Cogwangco, a member of the House of Representatives and son of the late Dandeng Cogwangco, a billionaire who was close to the Marcos.

Over the past 15 years, Cojuangco has twice tried to pass legislation to revive Bataan, funded a pro-nuclear nonprofit group and hosted many foreign nuclear advocates in the Philippines, often personally paying for plane tickets. After Marcos was elected last year, Cojuangco was appointed chairman of the new Special Committee on Nuclear Energy.

Vice President Harris announced in November that Washington had begun negotiations with the Philippines on a Civil nuclear cooperation agreement The first step in allowing US companies to sell nuclear technology to the country. It was a welcome move, Kujuangco said, but he held meetings in December with officials from China and South Korea, neither of which require government agreements to sell nuclear technology.

“Everyone wants to help us,” Cojuangco said with a smile.

It seems that everyone, except for the politicians representing Patan, who have repeatedly said that their constituents do not support Ennahda.

Cojuangco’s expression shifted. “Great politicians,” he said, like in the 1980s.

In the run-up to the 2022 election, the Marcos family has been striving to exonerate their history, and crafting campaigns on TikTok and YouTube that portrayed their late president as a leader who brought wealth and infrastructure, rather than debt and oppression. Kapp, the anti-nuclear activist, said there is a similar effort to remake Bataan’s image.

She said advocates of nuclear power had targeted younger Filipinos, and promised that reviving the plant would create jobs and investment. They cast the factory as a gateway to the industry of the future and discredited it The popular movement you once resisted. On Facebook, political groups loyal to Marcos have repeatedly shared a 2019 video that has been viewed over a million times: “Corey Aquino squandered a $2.3 billion project to demonize Marcos.”

Dante Elaya, 68, watched in disbelief. As a young lawyer in the 1980s, he marched against the plant because of its safety risks, not because of politics. those risks It has not disappeared and may have doubled, he said. He added that the notion that the government would bypass them to rehabilitate a dictator is “abhorrent”.

In 2008, the International Atomic Energy Agency said the plant should be “Comprehensive evaluationTo bring it back online. A recent study concluded that it would cost about $1 billion to bring it online. How can people be confident that the operation will not again be mismanaged, Elia wondered?

Elaya and other community leaders, including some local pastors, try to revive opposition to the factory. But they are not sure if they will have the impact they did four decades ago.

Since the station was suspended, four coal projects have been built in Bataan, almost all of them against the wishes of the local population. Kabi said villages were displaced and waterways destroyed in the name of generating power for the country. While driving through a community that was being divided up by a coal plant, I looked out the window.

“Wasn’t that enough?” she asked.

An hour away, Torres was finishing his day at the nuclear plant. He was 18 when he first got there and now had wrinkles and gray hair. He had dreamed for years of seeing the reactor in action, but amid the recent debate, he wasn’t always sure what to think.

Torres has been circling a room of metal vessels and tubes meant to keep the reactor cool – now rusty from lack of use. He knew that all of this equipment had to be replaced, and at a cost.

Perhaps the plant still deserves a second chance. Perhaps he will live long enough to see that happen, Torres said.

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