Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2013-2014
In the wake of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which may be the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded in the Republic of the Philippines, there is one issue the overwhelmed authorities there do not have to address: a reactor meltdown. That’s because the country’s one unit, the Bataan reactor, 45 miles west of Manila, was closed before it was ever loaded with uranium fuel. Instead of producing electricity and radioactive waste, the vacant system now serves as a global tourist attraction.
Completed in 1984, the Bataan complex was commissioned by longtime US-backed President Ferdinand Marcos, who imposed martial law in 1972 and whose family was rumored to have profited from the $2.3 billion project cost. The 620-megawatt reactor, built by Westinghouse, was supposed to have been the first nuclear power generator in Southeast Asia, and was touted as the solution to the problem of high fossil fuel costs in the Philippines. But when Marcos was overthrown in a 1986 popular revolt and Corazon Aquino became president, she refused to start the reactor. Her concerns reportedly included its location above multiple fault lines, its close proximity to an active volcano, and the frequency of typhoons that ravage the island nation. The decision, made just after the Chernobyl catastrophe, has been constantly challenged by nuclear energy proponents but also regularly reinforced by subsequent nuclear disasters, most notably the ones at Three Mile Island and Fukushima. The last of the uranium that had been flown in from the United States to fuel the reactor was removed from the site in 1997.
In May 2011, just months after a massive earthquake and tsunami crippled Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi, the Philippines’ Department of Tourism opened the shuttered Bataan facility for regular tours. Visits to the site must now be booked months in advance, as tourists from all over the world — especially Japan — seek more information about nuclear power. Shortly after it was opened to the public, regional tourism director Ronald Tiotuico told the Philippine Star, “Hopefully, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant would serve to warn the global community of the fallout disaster that struck people in the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima [accidents].” Since Super Typhoon Haiyan flattened entire towns with its 195 mile-per-hour winds and 16-foot-high waves, this warning will ring more true than ever. — CNN, May 11, 2011; New York Times, Feb. 13, 2012; Philippine Star, Aug. 6, 2013; AFP News, May 11, 2011 & Nov. 11, 2013 — ASP