Fault lines, volcanoes: Scientist raises questions on Bataan nuke plant's safety

Jasmin Romero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 02 2022 11:31 PM | Updated as of Jun 02 2022 11:43 PM

The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in Bagac is surrounded by wide roads and an elevated landscape to mitigate nuclear accidents. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File
The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant in Bagac is surrounded by wide roads and an elevated landscape to mitigate nuclear accidents. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA—A geologist on Thursday raised concerns over the proposed revival of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) by the incoming administration of President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

Project NOAH Executive Director Mahar Lagmay questioned the available information about the presence of earthquake fault lines where the mothballed power plant is located, and its vulnerability to a volcanic eruption.

“Do we have these information available for us to make a concrete decision?” Lagmay asked during the virtual Forum on Nuclear Energy.

He was referring to the presentations made by his fellow scientists who tackled the issues of competitiveness and impact of nuclear energy, and the possible adoption of nuclear programs.

These included the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Nuclear Research Institute's presentation of its studies on the viability of the revival of BNPP. They also addressed doubts on the power plant's operability, such as the existence of fault lines underneath the facility and possible eruption of nearby volcanoes.

The DOST said there are no active faults underneath the plant.

“Walang active fault on the BNPP. The ultimate arbiter kung may fault yan o wala, Phivolcs,” DOST- PNRI director Carlo Arcilla said.

“An active fault beneath BNPP will condemn the structure immediately and absolutely. PNRI are the regulators. Now, if it is true that there is an active fault beneath it, the permit will not be signed by me. I can promise you that,” he said.

But Lagmay raised his questions on the fault lines.

“There was a point on active faults being absent in the maps, the North Bohol fault was not in the active fault map. There was a Zambales quake that happened … it was not plotted as an active fault map. There was a Batangas earthquake, that was not in the active fault map. In 2019, there was an earthquake that happened in Mindanao, it was also not mapped as an active fault,” he said.

Arcilla, however, said he is confident about the BNPP’s proximity to a dormant volcano Mt. Natib, and even Laguna de Bay.

“Naka-build 'yung plant from the lahar deposits of Mt. Natib. This building is built on adobe. Adobe is a product of violent volcanic eruption. Where did the volcano that produced the adobe come from? Laguna de Bay, which is a volcano … it is younger than Mt. Natib. Are you afraid that the volcano on Laguna de Bay will erupt? No. Mas bata sa Laguna de Bay kesa sa Mount Natib,” he said.

Citing studies, scientist Dr. Josef Yap, a former senior technical advisor of the Ateneo School of Government said volcanic and fault issues are deemed “inconsequential”.

“The BNPP structure is 2.8 times stronger than the Fukishima nuclear power plant. And the Fukushima plant withstood (a) magnitude 9 earthquake … We can therefore conclude that the decision not to operate the BNPP was largely political in nature,” Yap said.

Lagmay, however, had more questions.

“Do we really have that kind of studies like for example, those hazard maps and the frequency of events that happen in Mt. Pinatubo? Because we know that before Pinatubo erupted, it was classified as a potentially active volcano. Just like the classification now of Mt. Natib. Now we have have very, very good maps of Pinatubo. I find that lacking in Mt. Natib, on which the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is nested,” Lagmay said.

Arcilla admitted that he and Lagmay have differences in professional opinions about BNPP, but both agreed that more studies should be conducted before the controversial plant is revived.

“I agree with Mahar... 100%. I am also a geologist, I’m also a volcano person… But there is an extra responsibility of being a regulator, and I said this: if I can see there is a risk, I will not sign it. That is why … we should do a careful study on the BNPP, especially on the geology,” Arcilla said.

He would also recommend further studies if the incoming Marcos Jr. administration decides to revive the mothballed nuclear power plant.

“If the new president asks us, this is what I’d recommend regarding BNPP—you need a detailed geologic study on Mount Natib. Nakausap ko na si Dr. Lagmay, magkasama kaming gagawa nito. This has to be done before BNPP operates,” Arcilla said.

The DOST-PNRI official said if studies reveal that risks of operating the BNPP are low, the mothballed facility should be given a chance.

“If the studies shows there is a fault and a volcano threat is there… I will not sign it (license to operate). But hopefully if people will accept, if the risks are low, they should accept the results. Ang mahirap kasi, there are some people 'di pa nga ginagawa, opposed na,” he said.

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