(September 3, 1993) For a while it looked like the never ending story but it finally seems that the Philippine nuclear power plant in Morong, Bataan will never see the atomic light.
(397.3863) WISE Amsterdam - It all started in July 1973 when the Marcos regime decided to build six nuclear power plants. The first one was planned for the Bataan peninsula with a loan from the US Eximbank. In 1974 General Electric was deep into negotiations with Philippine's National Power to get the order. But Westinghouse hired a lobbyist who was close to Marcos: Herminio Disini, the very well connected chairman of Herdis Management & Investment. He regularly played golf with Marcos.
Disiini had a high batting average, getting 80% of his recommendations carried out by Marcos. And so, Westing-house made a direct offer to Marcos and his cabinet to supply a plant with two 620 Mw reactors at a base price of US$500 million. Other charges like fuel and transmission lines raised the estimated total price to around US$ 650 million.
Westinghouse won the deal and GE was out. By the time of the formal contract, the deal was for a plant with just one 620 Mw reactor because the Philippines couldn't afford a second one. And so, instead of getting a twin-reactor plant for US$650 million, the Philippines had to pay US$722 million for a single reactor plant with half the power output. Adding US$387 million for interest and escalation costs, the contract price then rose to US$ 1.1 billion.
Disregarding the fact that the site chosen was dangerous (five miles from a volcano and within 25 miles of three geologic faults, not to mention the open sea), the construction was started in 1976 and completed nine years later in 1985. However, it was never commissioned. But its uranium fuel, worth US$80 million, sits in storage at the facility.
In 1986 the Aquino administration mothballed the plant for safety reasons. But this decision had a pure political motive. The plant was too much associated with the Mareos regime and tainted by the allegations that Westinghouse had bribed that regime in order to win the project. In June 1986, the government ordered a study to determine whether it was feasible to convert the plant into a coal-fired generator. At the same time, the Philippines started a suit against Westinghouse; the government was hoping to get a restitution from Westinghouse for the full escalated costs which by then had reached US$2.2 billion.
A few days after Fidel Ramos succeeded Corazon Aquino as president in May 1992, a US court cleared Westinghouse of the bribing allegations, but several people in the Philippines who were involved in the government in earlier days said the court was biased in favor of the firm. There is not much hope left for recovering any of the money and Manila is appealing that decision. In the meantime, annual maintenance costs are US$3.3 million.
Since July 1992 the Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition (NFPC), a group of activists opposing the Bataan nuclear power plant, have been lobbying the Ramos government to convert the plant into a non-nuclear plant. In April 1993 Ramos organized a nine-man committee to determine whether to go nuclear or not. Deadline for the panel was 1 July. But suddenly, on the 30th of May 1993, Fidel Ramos announced that the plant will be converted for use as a non-nuclear facility. According to a US engineering firm's proposal, the conversion will cost US$600 million.
According to the Far Eastern Economic Review, a committee member said that the term 'conversion' was a 'misnomer'. "Part of the steam generated in the diesel-fired facility would be recycled to fuel the nuclear facility's turbines. Technical constraints for such a setup would reduce the nuclear turbine's to only 450 Mw". Whatever will happen to the Bataan plant, it won't go nuclear.
- Far Eastern Economic Review, 10 June 1993
- PWT (NL), 17 Dec. 1992
- WISE NCs 379 and 370
- Fortune International, September 1986; "Monster of Morong" 1991 (FDC)
Contacts: Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition, P0 Box 1105, 1099 Manila, The Philippines; tel: + 63-73248-39.