Justifying the Activation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant: More Official Abuse of Scientific Data
Posted on 31 January 2009
By Kelvin S. Rodolfo
Since beginninig to study lahars at Mayon Volcano in the 1980’s, my data, if judged “inconvenient” by various governmental entities, have been trivialized, distorted or disregarded. The story of the corruption-ridden building of lahar dikes at Pinatubo in the 1990s is well known. More recently, Dr. Fernando Siringan of the Marine Science Institute and I continue to battle the life-threatening Kamanava flood-control project of the Department of Public Works and Highways. That 5 billion peso project either ignores or trivializes our data, confirmed by NAMRIA, that show Kamanava unevenly sinking several centimeters per year. The project also blatantly minimizes the heights of storm waves and surges that would obliterate the dikes and river walls during a major typhoon.
Now, a new problem. People who are eager to reactivate the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant are dangerously misrepresenting scientific data, including a paper published in 2005 by Ms. Joan Cabato, Dr. Siringan and myself on the geology of Subic Bay, which, of course is adjacent to the Bataan peninsula.
Our work took several years. From a slowly moving boat or ship, we gathered 125 kilometers of “seismic reflection” data, in collaboration with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau and the National Power Corporation. That method puts powerful pulses of low-frequency sound into the water. The sound passes down through the water and into the layers of sediment below the sea floor. Some of the sound is reflected back upwards from the different sediment layers, and is collected by phones trailing behind the boat. Electronic equipment automatically makes a detailed picture of the structure underlying the sea — in our case down to a depth of about 120 meters — much as if we took an X-ray of it.
After we processed the data and prepared the manuscript, it underwent rigorous scrutiny by our geological peers in the Philippines and abroad, before it was published in the international Journal of Asian Earth Sciences. I am proud to have been part of that effort, which earned a Masters degree for Joan Cabato, a very bright young woman who recently earned her doctorate from the University of Heidelberg in Germany .
Recently we learned that Hon. Congressman Mark Cojuangco [5th District of Pangasinan] has filed House Bill 4631 of the 14th Congress, “Mandating the immediate re-commissioning and commercial operation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant”.
The Bataan nuclear plant is situated on Napot point, near the east coast of Subic Bay . We are dismayed to find that the Explanatory Note to the Bill cites our work as certifying the safety of the site:
“Top geologists have evaluated Bataan and, with the exception of Mt. Natib which is a dormant volcano whose last eruption was estimated to have been between 11.3 to 18 thousand years ago (Cabato et al. 2005) and which is ten kilometers (10 km) from the BNPP, could find no anomalies in locating the plant there.”
First, the BNPP is not 10 kilometers away from Natib, it is on Natib, which constitutes the entire northern half of the Bataan peninsula.
Second, none of the “top geologists” with an intimate knowledge of Bataan has called Napot Point “safe”. Dr. Ronnie Torres, now at the University of Hawaii , warned of volcanism and faulting at the site in 1992 while he was still at Phivolcs: “Natib volcano does not erupt very often but could still erupt.” As a rough rule of thumb, the longer a volcano is in repose, the more time it has to store eruptive energy.
Third, Dr. Ernesto Sonido, formerly geophysics professor of the National Institute of Geological Sciences at UP Diliman, collaborated with Mr. Jesse Umbal to write an exhaustive, 38-page analysis for SBMA of the geology and geohazards of the Subic Bay area. Jess Umbal is one of the brightest, most competent volcanologists and geologists I have ever worked with. He earned his Masters degree at the University of Illinois with me during the Pinatubo eruption. Sonido and Umbal adjudged Natib as “potentially active”. It is important to recognize that Natib, like Pinatubo, is a “caldera-forming” volcano. Volcanoes of that type characteristically have very powerful eruptions separated by long repose periods. Sonido and Umbal have documented two Natib eruptions that formed large calderas. Sonido and Umbal also studied the system of faults exposed on land in the larger region. They estimated the recurrence period for earthquakes of Magnitude 6.4 to 7.0 at 22 years; of Magnitude 7.0 to 7.3 at 59 years; and of Magnitude 7.3 to 8.2 at 157 years.
Fourth, Drs. Cabato and Siringan and I did not estimate the age of Mt. Natib ‘s last eruption in our own paper on Subic Bay . This is what we wrote:
“A breach in the caldera of Mt. Natib is the most likely source of a presumed pyroclastic deposit in the eastern bay that is associated with sediments about 11.3–18 ka [11,300 to 18,000 years ago], indicating that a Natib eruption occurred much more recently than previously documented for this volcano.”
The objective of our research had been to study the geologic history of Subic Bay . As is common in science, we discovered facts beyond that objective. By accident, we found evidence of a Natib eruption much younger than the 27,000 year old one previously recognized. To determine the latest activity of Natib would require a systematic study of the volcano. If we could cut the age of the youngest recognized eruption in half purely by accident, what are the chances of finding an even younger eruption?
But even a casual reading of our article reveals a much greater potential danger, one from earthquakes. We have documented numerous faults in Subic Bay , some very recently active, geologically speaking. Again quoting from our paper:
“…the youngest [faults] … show that movements occurred about every 2 ky [2,000 years], most recently about 3 ka [3,000 years ago].”
This means that, judging from the geologic evidence, Subic Bay is well overdue for an episode of faulting and earthquakes.
Vertical displacements on the faults in Subic Bay are up to 5 meters. In other words, when one of the faults is active, one side of it moves up or down vertically about 5 meters relative to the other side. We cannot say how much additional, horizontal motion would accompany the vertical drop during an earthquake.
In short, our science is being abused by a person in governmental authority, either deliberately or out of sheer geological ignorance.
During a discussion on nuclear power on Channel 4 last week, Congressman Cojuangco made many incorrect statements about how safe the Bataan nuclear plant is. I should not have to say this, but must, under the circumstances: Someone does not become a geological expert simply by being elected Congressman, or Senator, or even President. I would not presume to tell a Congressman how to legislate; a Congressman with no scientific or geological training whatsoever should not distort our science for his own purposes!
As I am fond of saying while lecturing on natural hazards, “Ang mga pamaraan ng kalikasan ay hindi mababago upang itugma lamang sa ninanais ng tao.”
I never ask anyone to take my scientific pronouncements on faith, but an act “Mandating the immediate re-commissioning and commercial operation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant” is clearly premature. I would welcome, instead, legislation that properly funds a thorough, inter-agency evaluation of the site. The study would properly be led by Phivolcs and involve geologists of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau and the National Institute of Geological Sciences.
There are other very strong reasons why nuclear power is wrong for the Philippines .
We have no Uranium ore in the Philippines , and no hope of finding any. Reviving nuclear power here, in addition to putting many Filipinos in harm’s way, means that we would expend a huge amount of money to put ourselves at the mercies of countries that have Uranium, much as we have made ourselves utterly dependent on petroleum-exporting companies.
The very well-funded global nuclear lobby is fond of claiming that nuclear power generates no carbon dioxide to add to global warming. But much fossil fuel is spent to mine, mill and process Uranium before it reaches a reactor. Every watt of electricity generated by a nuclear plant thus indirectly makes about 30 percent as much CO2 as a watt generated by burning fossil fuel.
The Congressman says that government will have to subsidize nuclear power here. Instead of saying “government” , he should say “the Filipino taxpayer”.
The Filipino taxpayer has already paid US$ 2.3 billion for the plant, plus $460 million in interest, without receiving any benefit. Now it is proposed to spend another $1 billion to renovate it.
No less an expert on Philippine governmental corruption than President Joseph Estrada declared publicly in June 1999 that Philippine government project funds routinely lose 20% to graft and corruption.
Of course, the present administration is totally free of graft and corruption. But renovating BNPP would take at least a decade, and who can guarantee the honesty of administrations to come? After all, 20% of $1 billion is very tempting…
Given the potential burden of reviving BNPP, the government owes it to the Filipino taxpayer to vigorously, openly, and thoroughly explore all the ramifications. Dir. Carlo Arcilla of the National Institute of Geological Sciences at UP Diliman is organizing a symposium for that purpose.
Finally, beyond the issues of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, the nation must concern itself with the continuing abuse of science. Dr. Cabato, like many other highly trained scientists, could well be discouraged from returning to work here. Is it any wonder that Philippine science lags behind the rest of
Kelvin S. Rodolfo
National Institute of Geological Sciences
Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences
University of Illinois at Chicago
DOST Balik Scientist
Forwarded by KPNE
CLEMENTE BAUTISTA National Coordinator Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) No.26 Matulungin St. Bgy. Central, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines 1100 Tel. No. +63-2-9248756 Fax No. +63-2-9209099 Email: kalikasan.pne@ gmail.com Website: www.kalikasan. org
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on Feb 10th 2009