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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, April 20, 2012
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Nuclear energy


Many years back we were amazed at the existence of nuclear submarines that can stay under water for months without having to surface to recharge its batteries. The wonder of it all is that the nuclear reactor seems too small to provide such almost unlimited energy.

I have a niece in France who got married to (of course) a Frenchman and they live just a kilometer from a nuclear power plant. She said they tap the heated water from the plant and use them for their tropical nursery where they could grow tropical fruits like bananas and papayas not for their fruit, but for the European tourists who had not seen a papaya or banana and other exotic plants found only in the Orient.

They used also the heated water for their crocodile farm that had to be warmed during winter time. Europe does not have crocodiles but in heated zoos they thrive and attract tourists. Theirs was the only crocodile farm and the heated water from the nuclear plant was for free

I am reminded of this because of the proposal of former Rep. Mark Cojuangco and the support of Gov. Alfredo Marañon for the idea to construct a nuclear power plant in Negros and the revival of the Bataan Nuclear power plant. These are, of course controversial proposals, and I am certain there will be heated debates on this issue.

Do you know that the Philippine government spends US$155,00 each day to keep this plant that does not produce a single watt of electricity? I will not go into the details of how this monstrosity of our paying for nothing had come about but only to point out that the government should decide to make this operational and save this country from brown-outs or close it down all together or sell it as junk.

There are as of last month, 439 operational nuclear power plants in the world, providing 6 percent of energy and 13-14 percent of electricity. France leads in this area followed by the United States which had earlier banned nuclear power plants after the Three Mile accident. This percentage is growing because of new plants being constructed worldwide.

The heretofore non-nuclear countries – India, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam will be powered by nuclear energy. These countries have opted for nuclear energy as the only sustainable electricity source, the cheapest compared to other alternatives.  

By 2025, India will have 4 nuclear power plants, Malaysia 4, Thailand 5 and Vietnam, 16. These countries had nothing nuclear since 2011. China has 25 nuclear power plants.

We have developed a fear for nuclear energy, the sight of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims are fresh in our minds and each year on the anniversary of the bombings of these cities, we  see the devastation of the strength of nuclear power.

The bombs, however, are different from nuclear energy used for power generation alone.

There had been only three accidents related to nuclear power – Chernobyl (Russia) in 1979, Three Mile (US) in 1986 and the most recent, the Fukushima that was due to the tsunami that struck Japan last year.

The Fukushima case is not an accident, but due to the earthquake and the tsunami, but the other two were due to operational problems.

These problems had been addressed and there is already what the scientists call Generation 5 which is reported to be fail-safe. But for the earthquake in 2011, there has been no repeat of the Chernobyl and Three Mile cases.

The US has in fact, lifted a ban on the construction of nuclear power plants that was imposed after the Three Mile accident and has recently authorized the construction of another plant.

There are oppositions to the nuclear power plants, the most active being Greenpeace but this opposition is based mainly on speculations that accidents could happen and earthquakes could cause the plant to explode.

So far, however, the fear has not materialized but the possibility can never be entirely ruled out. Although there were two major accidents, the damage is less than what a nuclear bomb would cause. Moreover new technology and new generation of these power plants had raised the level of safety several notches higher.

Nuclear energy is claimed to be the cheapest although the cost of construction can be monumental. Nevertheless the western world and now Asia are going nuclear. This is an indication that these countries consider nuclear energy as relatively safe and the balance between the risk of an accident and the need for cheap electricity tilts in favor of nuclear.

This is the first time that Occidental Negros has taken a step towards nuclear energy as power source. But to take the next step requires a consensus. We should now initiate discussions on the Cojuangco proposal as it applies to this province.*



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