Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Friday, June 15, 2007

Nuclear plant is paid for after three decades

THE Philippine government has finally paid off the Bataan nuclear power plant almost 32 years after work began on what became the country’s biggest white elephant that never produced a single watt of electricity, a government official told Agence France Presse Wednesday.

“The final payment of $15 million was settled in April,” Filemon Condino, head of the fiscal planning and assessment division of the Bureau of the Treasury, said.

One of the pet projects of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the controversial power plant cost the Filipino taxpayer a total of P21.2 billion ($460 million at today’s exchange rate) on a debt of $1.06 billion.

A Marcos crony, Herminio Disini, is claimed to have earned $18 million for brokering the deal that awarded the contract to build the plant to Westinghouse Electric Corp.

“It is now officially off the books,” Condino said. “Today it is just a big white elephant.”

The nuclear power plant, located in Bataan province west of Manila, was a knee-jerk reaction by Marcos to the energy crisis of the early 1970s.

The Middle East oil embargo of the time put a heavy strain on the Philippine economy, and Marcos saw nuclear power as the best way forward in terms of meeting the country’s future needs and reducing reliance on imported oil.

Construction began in 1976 and was completed in 1984 at a cost of $2.3 billion.

“The plant is basically still intact, including the reactor,” Mauro Marcelo, manager of asset preservation for the energy department, told AFP.

Although the plant has been up for sale for decades, he said it was unlikely anyone would want to buy a reactor whose technology dated back to the 1980s.

Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla said given the strict requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency, it would be far more expensive to rehabilitate the plant than to build a new one.

“Apart from being developed as a monument to folly or a tourist attraction, the property is now under the Asset Privatization Trust,” he said.

“The site could be used for a new power plant using other kinds of fuel, but to convert the existing plant is not economically feasible. Somebody might come up with a brilliant idea later on but right now, that is where we are,” he said.

“Since we can’t make use of it as a power plant, it might attract tourists who want to see what a nuclear power plant looks like.”

The power station, 97 kms. north of Manila, has been the center of controversy from the day construction began.

When Marcos was overthrown in early 1986, a team of international inspectors visited the site and declared it unsafe and inoperable as it was built near major earthquake fault lines and close to the then dormant Pinatubo volcano.

Debt repayment on the plant became the country’s biggest single obligation.

Successive governments looked at ways of converting the plant into an oil-, coal- or gas-fired power station, but found the cost to be too expensive.

The plant itself has been maintained despite never having been commissioned.

A Westinghouse light water reactor, it was designed to produce some 621 megawatts of electricity.

Much of the technology used in the plant was early 1970s, but it was modified following the Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979. AFP

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