MANILA, MARCH 13, 2009
(STAR) STAR SCIENCE By Kelvin S. Rodolfo, PhD Updated March 12, 2009 12:00 AM

(Fourth and last of a series)

Final thoughts

House Bill 4631 “mandating the immediate rehabilitation, commissioning and commercial operation of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant” has benefited from no geohazard assessment. It does not even taken into account the studies just discussed. Given the danger posed to millions of people, a thorough assessment of the very real natural hazards is urgently necessary. Instead of this bill, what we need is 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, the National Institute of Geological Sciences, and the Geological Society of the Philippines. A seismic-reflection offshore survey around southern Bataan is also obviously necessary.

We also should remember that a technical audit of BNPP was commissioned by a Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on BNPP in 1988. The multi-disciplinary audit involved over 15 nuclear experts from the US, Germany, Brazil, South Korea and Japan. That audit was only preliminary. From 1988 to 1990 over 50 nuclear experts from the US and Europe made a much more extensive audit that cost the government $10 million. The study was kept confidential because of the pending litigation vs Westinghouse. Its many volumes remain locked up in the Senate vaults. The study should be made fully available for public scrutiny now; it may save much unnecessary and expensive duplication. After all, the Pinoy taxpayers paid for it, and are entitled to full perusal and proper use of it.

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 claims 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 indirectly makes about a third as much CO2 as a watt generated by burning fossil fuel. That quantity inevitably will increase as the quality of the remaining ore goes down.

The Filipino taxpayer has already paid $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. Half of that funding is supposed to be paid by a tax of P0.10 on every kilowatt-hour consumed in the entire country for several years.

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[Kelvin Rodolfo is concurrently professor emeritus with the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois in Chicago, and an adjunct professor with the National Institute of Geological Sciences, University of the Philippines-Diliman. He is currently a DOST Balik Scientist. Discussion and corrections are welcome at]

COUPLE  OF  COMMENTS TO THE ABOVE ARTICLE (From Philstar feedback pages)

lito1 (posted on Feb 23, 2009 12:50 AM) Member since Feb 22, 2009 “

1. The seismic and volcanic hazards at the BNPP had been studied. Results were incorporated in the Preliminary Safety Analysis Report(later Final Safety Analysis Report), a voluminous document and a licensing requirement. before a construction permit can be granted by the regulatory body( then Phil Atomic Energy Commission). I suggest that Dr Rodolfo read the portion of the report vis -a-vis these hazards.

With regards to Mt Natib, it is considered extinct; that the eastern flank (facing away from the plant site) had erupted some thousands of years ago but that the western flank( facing the plant site) had not erupted for much longer times than the eastern flank did. Also the lava flows would not affect the plant site due to the topology and relatively high elevation of the plant site.

2.Seismic monitoring system was also to be set up to monitor earthquake activity of the volcano. (it does not just erupt without warning signs, e.g. increasing intensity and frequency of tremors, rise in temperature, etc). Should such an eruption happens, the plant could be safely shut down and kept in such condition until conditions return to normal.

3.The article tends to show , erroneously, that the site was chosen without any thought of these possible hazards( and others). Dr Rodolfo , in one forum I attended at the UP Nat Inst of Geology, has stated his opposition to nuclear power per se, and his article is designed to support this very subjective view.

4. However, any new scientific evidence that could impact on the safety of the plant should be brought to the attention of concerned regulatory authority and the "Owner" of the plant for appropriate assessment on plant's safety.

As for the eruption of Mt Pinatubo, the site was not affected; only a few cm of ash fall was received there.

nanotechnology (posted on Feb 21, 2009 12:15 PM) Member since Feb 14, 2008 “

I don't want to argue to a person with PHD but I think Dr. Rodolfo is partially wrong delivering his view about BNPP location.

1. Volcanic and Seismic Activity of the peninsula - Probably, Dr. Rodolfo never visited the BNPP and the place and maybe, he never visited Japan. Japan is surrounded by 4 worlds major tectonic plates, namely the Philippine Plate, the Euraian plate, The North-American Plate and the Pacific Plate. Two of these two plates is dissecting Japan. Every week, I feel earthquake of intensity 4 and above. 50% of the world major earthquakes happened in Japan. But... there are more than 20 nuclear power plants in Japan with a total of 68 Nuclear Reactors.

2. About 98% of nuclear plant disasters has nothing to do with the earthquake. The one that happened in Mihama, Japan in 2007 (actually I was there near the plant), the cause of the leak after the 7.0Magnitude earthquake was actually the poor maintenance of the large beam that holds the reactor. It is the engineering and Safety aspects that count.

3. Dr. Rodolfo, being an exponent of Physics, and Science should know that all power plants are hazardous to the living things. He must know the engineering economics of power plant efficiency, measured by the percentage of the cost of input-power and how the mechanical energy is converted into electricity.

4. If Dr. Rodolfo did not consider the three points I mentioned above, he must be at the same level of those Gabriela, BAYAN and other militant group who only think one side of the reality.... giving false scientific views in their rhetoric speeches and propaganda. In the first place, these militant group does not want the country to be progressive because they will die naturally when our economy rises-up.

5. The only thing that I agree with these militant group or Dr. Rodolfo disagreement with BNPP is the possible CORRUPTION by the politicians and government officials.

The geological hazards of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant STAR SCIENCE By Kelvin S. Rodolfo, PhD Updated February 19, 2009 12:00 AM

(First of a series)


The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) that President Ferdinand Marcos had built on Napot Point at the seacoast in the Bataan town of Morong has an unacceptably high risk of serious damage from earthquakes, volcanism, or both, should it be activated in accordance with a bill currently being considered by the House of Representatives.

Marcos decided to build the BNPP in 1973, to address the first serious energy crisis that happened that same year. This rushed timing clearly indicates that the natural hazards of the site could not have been assessed properly. Such a study would have taken at least several years.

Marcos must not have known that more than the entire northern half of the Bataan peninsula consists of one large volcano, Mt. Natib, which even extends its base below sea level. In the 1970s, “volcaniclastic sedimentology” — the science of how volcanic explosion debris is produced, transported and deposited — had not yet even been formalized. Only in 1991 was the major international monograph Sedimentation in Volcanic Settings published. (It included one of the earliest formal uses of the term lahar, in an article on Mt. Mayon that I co-authored.)

When Pinatubo erupted in 1991, it left at its summit a huge “caldera,” a hole two kilometers in diameter. Much of the two to three cubic kilometers blown out to make the caldera formed “pyroclastic flows” — mixtures of very hot gases and rock debris that flowed down the sides of the volcano at speeds of 100 kilometers per hour or more, with temperatures of about 500°C.

Mt. Natib, a sister to Pinatubo, has two calderas, one as big as Pinatubo’s, the other more than twice as big, with a diameter of five kilometers. So Natib has erupted at least twice. And if caldera size is a valid measure, one of those eruptions must have been much larger than Pinatubo made in 1991.

Early concerns

In the 1970s, the volcanic nature of Natib was virtually ignored, but technicians were quite concerned about how earthquakes might affect the plant. Recognition of the dangers that earthquakes posed to the BNPP was recognized very early, but apparently was ignored. A year after construction began, nuclear technologists Elmer Hernandez and Gabriel Santos submitted an alarming eight-page “Report on the evaluation of the geological and seismological studies made on the Philippine Nuclear Power Plant — I Site” in which they said that the probability of an earthquake occurring there “is unacceptably very high,” and that 49 significant earthquakes had occurred in the area over 74 years, one within one to two kilometers of the proposed site itself. They also noted the presence of a possible fault in satellite photographs, which they confirmed on the ground with a magnetometer survey.

But construction continued anyway.

Nevertheless, the Philippine Atomic Energy Commission was concerned enough to send Prof. Ernesto Sonido, the geophysicist of the UP-Diliman Department of Geology and Geography, to investigate the site further in early 1979. On Jan. 25, Dr. Sonido reported that he and a Mr. John Palmer, the groundwater geological consultant of the contractor firm Ebasco, agreed on site that a fault zone existed in the vicinity of Napot Point. Faulting of otherwise impermeable rocks had made many fractures from which water was seeping. Palmer said that he had drilled more than 30 holes at the plant site. The boreholes encountered a particular rock at different depths, suggesting … “that the area had been tectonically active.”

When the plant was designed and built, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the United Nations had not yet made rules governing what must be done to build a plant on volcanic terrain. IAEA announced those criteria only in 1997, three years after volcanologists began to develop them, in the document “Volcanic Hazard in Nuclear Power Plant Siting — An IAEA Guidance — Provisional Safety Standards Series No. 1.” Had those standards existed in the 1970s, the BNPP would never have been built. And if applied today, the site would be unacceptable to the IAEA.

(To be continued)

The geological hazards of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant STAR SCIENCE By Kelvin S. Rodolfo, PhD Updated February 26, 2009 12:00 AM

(Second of a series)

The 1992 Torres report

While he was still at Phivolcs, Dr. Ronnie Torres, a foremost expert regarding pyroclastic flows who is now at the University of Hawaii, warned of volcanism and faulting at the site in a 1992 report, “The vulnerability of PNPP site to the hazards of Natib volcano” (Phivolcs Observer, Vol. 8 No. 3: 1-4).

Quoting Dr. Torres: “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, and thus, the stronger the eventual eruption.

The Sonido-Umbal 2001 Report to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority

Dr. Ernesto Sonido collaborated with Mr. Jesse Umbal to submit in 2000 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 know. Working with me during the Pinatubo eruption, he earned his Masters degree at the University of Illinois in 1993. Dr. Sonido is not a volcanologist, so we can assume that Umbal wrote those aspects in the report, which adjudged Natib as “potentially active.” The report documented two Natib eruptions that formed large calderas, one with a diameter more than twice as big as that of the new caldera on Mt. Pinatubo.

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.

The Cabato et al. study

In 1997, Ms. Joan Cabato, Dr. Fernando Siringan and I of the National Institute of Geological Sciences of UP Diliman, collaborating with the Mines and Geosciences Bureau and the National Power Corp., initiated a geophysical study of the marine geology of Subic Bay. The study was supported as “due diligence” hazard evaluation by then SBMA Chairman Richard J. Gordon.

From a slowly moving boat or ship, we gathered 125 kilometers of “seismic reflection” data. 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 hydrophones trailing behind the boat. Much as if we took an X-ray, electronic equipment automatically uses the returned signals to make a detailed picture of the structure underlying the sea, in our case down to a depth of about 120 meters.

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.

Our main finding was that over the last 18,000 years, Subic Bay has experienced faulting roughly every 2,000 years. The last such episode occurred about 3,000 years ago, so the area is overdue for another.

Quite by accident, we discovered a massive deposit of sediment that can only be explained as originating as a large pyroclastic flow from the large Natib caldera, in an eruption that occurred sometime between 11,000 and 18,000 years ago. That date has wrongly been called Natib’s latest eruption. A systematic study of Natib itself could find evidence of even younger eruptions.

(To be continued)

The geological hazards of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant - STAR SCIENCE By Kelvin S. Rodolfo, PhD Updated March 05, 2009

(Third of a series)

New earthquake data

Since 1973, many more earthquakes have occurred around and even under Mt. Natib; one on June 24, 1991 with a magnitude of 4.6 occurred directly under Napot Point. Since 1981, six have occurred within 25 kilometers of the BNPP. Note that the largest nuclear complex in the world, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Japan, was shut down by a magnitude 6.6 earthquake in July 2007 only 19 kilometers away. It is still inactive today.

The Lubao lineament

In 1997, Prof. Fernando Siringan, his students and I began to study land subsidence in coastal Bataan, Pampanga, Bulacan and Camanava. Very early, we noticed a sharp lineament in Lubao, Pampanga that trends southwest to Mt. Natib, where it abruptly disappears. Many earthquake epicenters plot along the lineament which, if extended farther, trends to Napot Point. The possibility that the lineament is a fault, and the possibility that it extends under Mt. Natib need urgently to be explored by scientists of Phivolcs and other institutions.

Professor Mahar Lagmay has established genetic relationships between faults and volcanoes, including Mt. Pinatubo and the volcanoes in Bicol.

Spent fuel pools

No country in the world has yet solved the problem of how to store nuclear waste permanently and safely for tens and hundreds of thousands of years. In the meantime, spent fuel is stored next to the plants, in pools of water that absorb the radiation and disperse the heat. The need for huge volumes of water to absorb excess heat from the reactor and from spent fuel is why the BNPP was built on the coast.

The US National Academy of Sciences has challenged the decision by federal regulators to allow this practice because of the risks of terrorist attacks. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is also very worried because loss of pool water could cause the zirconium alloy cladding of the most recently discharged spent fuel assemblies to combust spontaneously. The fire would then ignite adjacent fuel assemblies. Spraying the fire with water would make it worse because steam and zirconium react to produce even more heat.

Just like a fire in a reactor core, one in a spent fuel storage pool would release huge volumes of radioactive gases to the atmosphere, including much Cesium-137, which is water-soluble and extremely toxic, even in minute quantities.

Pool water could be lost in many ways such as pump valve or piping failures or a simple brownout. At Natib, an earthquake could simply slosh the water out of the pool. In an eruption, a pyroclastic flow could evaporate the water instantaneously.


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